- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - It’s impossible to miss the construction in downtown Rapid City right now, and area drivers are trying to make the best of it.

But those who encounter any one of three major projects going on now are growing frustrated, and many are having to change up their normal operating procedures to safely navigate all the traffic, cones and workers.

“My commute is just a bit more difficult and lengthy right now,” said Heather Bogart, 44, of Spearfish.

She’s not alone. With construction on Interstate 190, Mount Rushmore Road, and at the intersection of St. Joseph and Fifth streets, Black Hills residents are restructuring their commutes much like city and state construction crews are restructuring the roads.

Rapid City began construction on the St. Joseph and Fifth street crossing last Tuesday to replace worn and uneven concrete. The project is scheduled to end by May 28, reducing traffic to a single lane in all directions during the work. There will be four phases to keep traffic moving in single lanes throughout.

That will be a much shorter project than the other two. The Mount Rushmore Road project is split into three extensive phases, with the third not scheduled to begin until mid-2017.

I-190, meanwhile, is scheduled to be under construction until October 2017, with a second phase beginning six months after the first. The project will reconstruct the interchange at I-190 near downtown Rapid City and replace the 50-year-old bridge at the I-190 interchange, allowing direct access to North, Silver and Philadelphia streets. Meanwhile, traffic is diverted from four lanes into two.

Officials realize it is a lot of work all at once. But the state projects (I-190 and most of the Mount Rushmore Road project), and the city project on Fifth Street were planned to coincide, according to John Gerlach, the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s project engineer for the I-190 project.

“Usually whenever we do an improvement project, if the city needs to update their utilities, we try to get it all done at once,” Gerlach told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1UXc4Pb ).

That concept may cause more slowdowns, but is typically more efficient, traffic managers said.

“The state has their schedule and we have ours, and they need to get done,” said City Staff Engineer Gale Schipke. “We’re doing this on St. Joe and Fifth in the spring so it doesn’t interfere with Summer Nights. Otherwise traffic control would have backed into that.”

Some Rapid City residents and commuters think it is better to get all of the construction out of the way sooner than later, such as after tourists arrive in the summer.

“I’d say all at once is better,” said Don Knudsen, 57, of Rapid City. “Get it over with.”

“I’m a big get-it-done-at-once person,” said Casey Carmichael, 40, of New Underwood. “It’s annoying for a while, but at least you won’t have this continual problem going on forever.”

Bogart, on the other hand, wished the construction had been spaced out.

“I’d rather it was split up so it wasn’t as congested all at once,” Bogart said.

Gerlach said that at the DOT’s open house, most who attended seemed to think the I-190 work was a much-needed improvement. Schipke said that while he had heard very few complaints at this point, the city was trying to keep people informed beforehand. He did note that there have been some tweaks to make things easier for commuters since the work started.

“We put up some more signs, and billboards telling people not to block the intersections,” Schipke said. “Sometimes traffic control plans don’t work the way you think they would, and people got hung up and wouldn’t let traffic flow the other way. So we tried to make it flow a little better.”

Schipke said that the best one can do is carve out a little more time for travel.

“Probably leave a little bit earlier is all you can do,” Schipke said. “It’s gonna take a little more time.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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