Members of the Vermillion City Council have been informed that the South Dakota Transportation Committee will be meeting Thursday, Oct. 26 in Pierre to hold a hearing to discuss a proposed reduction of the speed limit on the SD Highway 50 bypass in Vermillion from 55 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour.
The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the Commission Room of the Becker Hansen Building at 700 E. Broadway Ave. in Pierre.
Scott Jansen, region traffic engineer with the South Dakota Department of Transportation, informed City Engineer Jose Dominguez of the upcoming discussion and asked if the department could receive concurrence from the city this week to the proposed speed rule change.
“I would support reducing it quite a bit further but in order to support what I think is a positive change I would move in approval of providing that concurrence,” Alderman Kelsey Collier-Wise said.
“What's the difference between a concurrence and an actual vote?” asked Alderman Tom Sorenson. “I would rather hear what's presented at the public hearing rather than a number that was provided because I agree chances are some of us would prefer it to be lower although I have no facts to base than on I'd like to hear those facts from an engineer. Is concurring agreeing? I'd like an opinion on that.”
“Concurring would be supporting the proposed change from 55 down to 50, sort of like a resolution of support for what the DOT is proposing to do,” said City Attorney Jim McCullough.
“Prior to that email being sent, the DOT did send us a brief report on the speed study that they have to do in order to suggest reducing or increasing the speed limit along any highway,” Dominguez said.
That report states that a spot speed study conducted in 2015 found “85 percentile speeds” of 55 miles per hour and 58 miles per hour in the area of the Highway 50 bypass.
“The proposed speed limit of 50 miles per hour is five to eight mile per hour less than the 85th percentile which is typically what you would go if you are going to be lowering the speed,” he said, reading from the report, “however, the 50 mile per hour speed is commensurate with the average speeds of 50 and 53 miles per hour.
“There is a way of doing this. You actually do have to do speed studies and typically, once you do the speed study, you figure out what the 85th percentile is which is what the populace that uses that highway typically tends to go to,” Dominguez said.
Safety may be the reason that only a five mile per hour reduction in the speed limit is being proposed, he added.
“It's actually unsafe to drastically reduce it (the speed limit),” Dominguez said. “You don't want to go from 55 to 30 even though the notion might be that it's safer because you're going slow. Well, no, everybody is going to want to be going 50 and then you're going to be causing accidents.
“At the same time, you don't want to go from 55 to 80 because you also have the opposite,” he said. Under that scenario, the speed limit sign would indicate that traffic should be moving at 80 miles per hour while it is actually likely to be moving at 55 miles per hour.
“Then you're going to have back-ups and accidents, so there is thought behind the 50 miles per hour,” Dominguez said. “That's not to say that after five years when another study is done maybe the 85th percentile at that point is at 35 miles per hour. It's all going to vary depending on growth and usage of the highway and volume and capacity.”
“We already have, coming in from the east, 70, 55, 45, 30 once we hit Cherry Street, which used to be called Highway 50,” Sorenson said, “and on the opposite end, north/south on Stanford, unless someone has changed that I believe that's 45 miles per hour between Cherry Street and Highway 50.
“It seems that 45 might actually be more consistent to the driver until they get back out of Vermillion,” he said.
Dominguez said the 45 mile per hour limit near the Highway 50 is overpass occurs because of the curve in the highway in the area.
“Could we tell them to leave it at 45 until we hit Highway 19?” Sorenson asked.
“According to the way people are driving it's not needed to be at 45,” Dominguez replied. “It would be too slow.”
In late July, officials from the state Department of Transportation held a public meeting in Vermillion to inform citizens of proposed improvements to that stretch of highway.
The public learned that some hoped-for improvements, such as a signal light at the intersection of the Highway 50 bypass and Highway 19, or a decrease in the speed limit on that stretch of road weren't in the plans at that time.
The improvement project will include approximately five miles of highway and will include resurfacing and widening that section of the bypass.
Cary Cleland, road design engineering supervisor, noted during the July meeting that current deficiencies in that stretch of highway include a narrow roadway, with four 11-foot driving lanes, and eight-foot left turn lane, and no shoulders. The bypass, which was last resurfaced in 1982, has a poor surface condition.
Proposed improvements include widening the driving lanes so that there are four 12-foot lanes, a 12-foot two-way left turn lane, and the addition of four-foot wide shoulders to the road.
Other work that is planned includes removing curb and gutter and storm sewer that is currently in place, adding asphalt concrete resurfacing to the bypass and putting in place additional lighting.
“Over a five-year period -- that’s what typically is used for our counts in determining the types of crashes that we have, there have been 45 reported crashes,” Cleland said. Nineteen of those crashes have been angle-intersection crashes. Eleven of the crashes have involved vehicles hitting animals and 15 mishaps are classified as “other.”
“Of these crashes, three have been fatalities, and I’m sure that 11 of these have been injury accidents, so we are trying with the project to reduce injury accidents and any types of accidents along this stretch of highway,” he said.
The crash rate on this stretch of the bypass, compared to a statewide weighted rate is high.
“This has a rate of 2.2 reported crashes, compared to a statewide weighted crash rate of 1.48, so it’s above the average,” Cleland said. “It means that there are more crashes along this section than on an average highway.”
Meetings will be held with affected landowners this fall, and a final design for improvements to the bypass will be formulated in 2018. Right of Way acquisition will take place in 2018 and 2019, with construction of the $6.7 million project slated to begin in 2021.
Cleland asked people attending the meeting and other community citizens to provide feedback to the DOT by filling out survey forms and written testimony sheets and submitting them by mid-August. “We want to make sure we get it right,” Cleland said. “We want to make sure we get any comments from you that might help improve this project, and try to get them into the plan. While we’re here, let’s just try to do it right.”
The audience at the July meeting was repeatedly told by engineers that public feedback is important to help bring about desired changes in that stretch of road.