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A traffic study was completed on Mitchell's roads. There's plenty of work ahead for improvement

Installing vehicle detection technology at Mitchell intersections currently lacking it was one recommendation for city leaders to improve traffic flow.

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Traffic flows along North Sanborn Boulevard at the 7th Avenue intersection on Tuesday in Mitchell.
Republic file photo

MITCHELL — A multifaceted traffic study has revealed Mitchell’s roads are in fairly good condition, but there’s plenty of work ahead for city leaders to improve traffic flow.

Results from the traffic study were presented to the city council in early March, which examined Mitchell’s roads and pedestrian paths, along with county roads within roughly 2 miles of city limits — an area referred to as the Mitchell growth area.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation-led study is providing city leaders with a long-term blueprint to guide them on enhancing Mitchell’s roads, pedestrian paths and prioritizing future transportation-related projects. Community members who participated in the surveys were key voices in the traffic study process, and they have indicated a desire to see much more shared-use paths and bicycle access.

As part of the study, the conditions of Mitchell’s roads were rated by Pavement Condition Index (PCI). Mitchell’s average PCI for all its roads was 63. Jonathon Wiegand, a project leader heading the traffic study, said a PCI score of 63 is considered good and noted the national average is between 60 and 70. In 2017, Watertown’s PCI was 61. Sioux Falls’ average PCI score for its roads was at 70 in 2022 — the highest among the South Dakota cities, Wiegand mentioned.

The study found 7% of Mitchell’s roads were deemed excellent and 10% very poor. A PCI score of 85 constitutes as excellent, Wiegand noted.

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“Watertown in 2017 was at 4%. Harrisburg was at 5%. Sioux Falls was at 19%,” Wiegand said of three cities’ percentage of roads deemed excellent. “It’s generally new roadways with new pavement.”

Traffic flows along South Burr Street between Interstate 90 and East Havens Avenue. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Traffic flows along South Burr Street between Interstate 90 and East Havens Avenue.
Republic file photo

Wiegand said the goal is to keep very poor-rated road conditions below 15%. The transportation plan also recommended maintaining a 63 PCI score and striving for 70 toward the future. To maintain the 63 PCI average, Wiegand estimated the city is looking at an annual price tag of $1.4 million.

“General best practice is less than 15% because once you get to 15% it becomes very expensive as the projects to get you out of that are your full reconstruction and major resurfacing projects,” he said.

Another key phase of the study examined the city’s traffic light signals, which Mayor Bob Everson has identified as an issue that needs to be addressed. Installing vehicle detection technology at Mitchell intersections currently lacking it was a key recommendation for city leaders to improve traffic flow.

“Vehicle detection is one of the best ways to have a traffic signal that is responsive to traffic patterns and volumes throughout the day and minimize unnecessary delays,” Wiegand said.

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Shown here is a traffic signal light at the Seventh Avenue and Main Street intersection.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

In the early months of the study, Everson pointed to First Avenue and Burr Street as one major intersection that has unnecessary delays and needs to be addressed.

On the pedestrian transportation side of things, the study recommended $13 million in a shared-use path network. At the first public meeting when the project kicked off in 2022, many residents who participated indicated they would like to see more shared-use paths connecting throughout all of Mitchell, including bridging gaps of bike paths along Lake Mitchell.

Of the $13 million in recommendations, $8.5 million accounted for shared-use path improvements.

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“It includes on-street bike lanes, bike paths, shared-use paths, paved shoulders, shared roads and sidewalks where bikes are allowed,” Wiegand said.

Providing better road connectivity was also a focal point of the project. With several large gaps in major roads at various areas in Mitchell, the study identified connecting Foster Street to Spruce and Mattie Street to Havens Avenue as two notable gaps that would greatly benefit from a road bridging them together.

“One I found interesting was the potential of joining Seventh and Eighth Avenue between Sanborn and Minnesota Street,” Public Works Director Joe Schroeder said.

As the south edge of Mitchell has welcomed more developments in the form of retail stores, along with it being the area where Mitchell Technical College is located, city officials have had their eye on connecting Foster Street to Spruce Street before the study began.

County commissioner urges cooperation for Burr and Spruce Street intersection ahead of soybean plant

Davison County Commissioner John Claggett joined the traffic study discussion during the meeting and echoed the need for county and city leaders to work together on addressing future road improvements and intersections abutting city limits.

Chief among the areas Claggett said will become an issue for the city if unaddressed is the Burr Street and Spruce Street intersection that serves as the main artery to Mitchell Technical College on the south edge of Mitchell. The projected influx of trains and semi traffic at the new soybean plant has raised new concerns for Claggett, who said traffic flow could become a “major, major issue” in the southern corridor.

“We’ve got a major, major issue. We’re glad to have the opportunity to have this issue. When the plant comes, it’s going to be a cracker jack for the whole community and region. I just need to light a fire and say we have to get some things going,” Claggett said, emphasizing a county and city cooperative effort to address the south edge corridor. “That’s really what we need.”

A car drives over the train tracks on Spruce street heading in the direction of MTI on Tuesday afternooon in Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)
A car drives over the train tracks on Spruce street heading in the direction of MTC.
Republic file photo

Wiegand laid out a recommendation for the city and county to team up on upgrading the highways in the surrounding Mitchell growth area.

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“We created a scenario where we look at those Mitchell growth area roadways, and there is a 50/50 cost share between Davison County and the city of Mitchell,” he said.

According to Wiegand, the county and city agreeing to cover the short-term highway improvement projects with 50% funding apiece would bring the estimated cost for the city to $4 million.

On Monday evening, there will be a public meeting at the Corn Palace for residents to weigh on the study and ask project leaders questions.

Wiegand said the 5 p.m. meeting will seek input on how the city could fund the lengthy list of transportation-related projects.

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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