- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota transportation officials are correcting speed limit signs from 65 mph to 75 on a short section of Interstate 90 near Box Elder that has a reputation as a speed trap.

The Rapid City Journal reports (https://bit.ly/1uxrOs0 ) that the stretch has had frequent traffic stops made by officers who sit in the median of the highway where the speed limit improperly changed from 75 to 65 mph.

The state Transportation Commission recently learned of the mistake, and moved quickly to correct what a state official called a “clerical error” that occurred a decade ago.

“This is a unique situation for this region,” said Todd Seaman, the Department of Transportation engineer for the Rapid City area.

Seaman said the 65-mph speed limit was supposed to have been extended the 1.3 miles east in 2004 after the state closed Exit 66 and built Exit 67. He said the speed limit signs in the area were placed in the correct positions at that time.

“The speed zone wasn’t changed on paper in 2004, but the traveler would have always seen the signs,” Seaman said.

Local defense attorneys said drivers have been stopped by authorities for going as little as three miles over the 65 mph limit, and some drivers have ended up in prison after they were found with illegal drugs.

Rapid City defense attorney Patrick Duffy said the stretch had been improperly signed and enforced as a 65 mph zone.

Duffy brought the discrepancy to the state’s attention earlier this year while preparing a defense for a West Coast couple stopped for going 68 in a 65-mph zone near Exit 67. After the stop, the officer learned they had 20 pounds of marijuana in their vehicle, and they were charged with possession with intent to distribute.

Duffy said he reached a “satisfactory plea bargain” in that case.

Matt Kinney, a defense attorney who has offices in Rapid City and Spearfish, said he has defended more than 30 clients who were stopped for traffic violations in that area and then charged with drug offenses.

Kinney said the officers, who often are accompanied by drug-detecting dogs, typically are looking for younger drivers in vehicles with out-of-state plates, particularly those from the West Coast. He said they will pull over a driver for going as little as three miles over the speed limit, which gives them an opportunity to survey the situation.

“Most of the violations that they pull them over for are ticky-tacky,” Kinney said. “These are not the violations they would incorporate in the normal course of their job.”

Kinney said that he has been able to get the charges reduced to misdemeanors in some cases, but he also has had clients sentenced to state prison after they were arrested near Exit 67.

As far as the Department of Transportation is concerned, the speed-limit problem has been corrected and it is time to move on, Seaman said.

“It is what it is,” he said. “Either it was a clerical error or it just didn’t get done.”

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