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DOT discusses plans for future Highway 37 road upgrades through Mitchell

The state's $16.2 million project is scheduled to bring new features and upgrades to the north side of the city.

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From left to right: Jay Peppel, of the South Dakota Department of Transportation, Mike Vehle, and Terry Johnson, engineering project supervisor with the city of Mitchell, discuss the design plans for the Highway 37 road construction project during Tuesday's public meeting at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Major road improvements and an accessible pedestrian path will bring a new look to a portion of State Highway 37 along the north side of Mitchell in the near future.

After nearly a decade of planning with the city of Mitchell, the South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled its $16.21 million road construction project that will include a bridge replacement and several miles of shared-use paths and sidewalks along Highway 37, stretching more than 2 miles from the North Main Street intersection near Northside Sinclair to National Guard Road. A timeline for the project and design plans were provided by DOT officials during a public meeting Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute.

“Fixing the concrete pavement, which is in rough shape, and replacing the bridge are areas in serious need,” said Neil Schochenmaier, DOT project engineering supervisor. “The bridge over Firesteel Creek was built in 1943, so it’s due for replacement.”

Tuesday’s meeting marked the first of several that will take place through 2020, including meetings with private landowners with property adjacent to the section of the DOT’s road construction project. Schochenmaier said the DOT is asking the public to provide as much feedback as possible to help pitch suggestions on the design, which is expected to be complete by 2021. According to Schochenmaier, construction work was initially slated for 2024 but could begin by 2023.

One of the primary features will be a concrete shared-use path which will stretch from the Main/Bypass intersection to National Guard Road. It will be designed to feature a two-lane system, allowing pedestrians to utilize the path for bicycling and walking in each direction.

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The project will also include installing a sidewalk stretching from 23rd Avenue to the Lake House restaurant on the east side of the highway. The 10-foot wide shared-use path will be constructed on the west side of Highway 37.

“The reason we’re cutting the sidewalk off at the Lake House is to give people walking access near the (Lake Mitchell) campground,” Schochenmaier said.

Constructing a bridge over the spillway dam for the shared-use path is one option Schochenmaier said the DOT is exploring, which would allow the path to remain along the lake on top of the hill and further away from the highway traffic.

According to Terry Johnson, engineering project supervisor with the city of Mitchell, the sidewalk installation and shared-use path addition are efforts aimed at providing pedestrian access to the businesses and areas around the lake from the heart of the city.

“This way people coming from the city can have a way to go to a place like the Lake House without having to cross the highway or drive,” Johnson said during the meeting. “The city and the DOT have been working closely together on how we can create a better pedestrian access route from the middle of town. We want to create a good path from the lake and soccer fields all the way throughout the city.”

Future plans include adding a bike trail from the north side of the bypass spanning to Minnesota Street, Johnson added. Plans about revamping Highway 37 on the north edge of the city have been discussed over the last decade, he said.

Considering the lake shoreline on the north side of the spillway is fairly close to the highway paired with a steep bank, Schochenmaier said the DOT plans to shift Highway 37 slightly to the east upon completion of the project.

“There’s not a lot of erosion protection as well, and we’ve had discussions with the city about shifting the highway slightly to the east and flattening the shoreline,” Schochenmaier said, noting rip-rap rocks would be used to protect against erosion.

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Another notable change to the section of Highway 37 includes replacing the existing ditches that divide a small portion of the highway from north of the spillway to North Harmon Drive with a center-raised median similar to Burr Street’s new median, Schochenmaier said.

Schochenmaier also provided some crash data and traffic count figures, noting they are factored into some of the design plans. There have been 37 crashes on the respective portion of Highway 37 from 2014-2018, equating to a crash rate of 1.75 crashes for every 1 million miles traveled on the road, Schochenmaier said. An average daily traffic count came in at 4,914 vehicles in one day during 2018, and roughly 8% of that consisted of trucks.

In an effort to reduce pedestrian and vehicle crashes, the existing free-right turns at the intersection of the Highway 37 bypass and North Main Street — which are the separate lanes that allow a driver make a right turn and completely avoid the intersection — will be removed.

“We are going to remove this primarily because of the pedestrian improvements that will be at the intersection, as it needs to be pulled in tight, otherwise we would increase the probability of crashes with pedestrians,” Schochenmaier said.

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From left to right: Jay Peppel, of the South Dakota Department of Transportation, Mike Vehle, and Terry Johnson, engineering project supervisor with the city of Mitchell, discuss the design plans for the Highway 37 road construction project during Tuesday's public meeting at Mitchell Technical Institute. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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