LAKE ANDES — After more than five months, the wait is finally over.
On Thursday, the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) opened the stretch of road east of Lake Andes that contains Highways 18/281/50.
Gov. Kristi Noem and the SDDOT announced the grade raise east of Lake Andes is complete and the roadway is open to traffic.
The highway has been closed since March 22 because of severe flooding.
"Earlier this summer, I met with local and (Yankton Sioux) tribal leaders who asked the state to consider building up Highway 18. Rising waters had covered roadways, cutting off highway access for people and businesses in the area," Noem said in a press release.
"Following that conversation, I put plans into motion to raise the roadway and restore access for people in the area. I’m pleased that the project reached completion (Thursday), and I look forward to continuing our recovery efforts with leaders in Lake Andes and other communities impacted by storms."
The project included raising the grade, placing asphalt surfacing, installing rumble strips, permanent signing, pavement markings and reflective delineation. Additional work completed included a connection to the tribal housing road east of 383rd Avenue.
The SDDOT will continue monitoring water levels and plans to place additional dirt embankment on the in-slopes, extend drainage culverts, and connect local roads.
The roughly quarter-mile stretch had remained submerged by the town’s namesake lake since mid-March. Because the flood water cut off access to the town, the SDDOT had posted "road closed" signs 10 miles to the east.
The flood waters forced lengthy detours to the north and south. The closed road forced alternate routes to Lake Andes for Charles Mix County services at the courthouse and law enforcement center. The closure also affected local businesses, schools, first responders, tourism and recreation.
In addition, the flooding cut off access to Lake Andes for a Yankton Sioux tribal housing development and the walking path used by many members to reach town.
By rolling out of its banks, the lake flooded parts of town and homes that had formerly been located along the lakefront. The high water table created problems for homeowners both in town and at the tribal housing development. Tribal members reported mold and other health hazards in flooded homes.
Now, area residents are regaining greater mobility and hoping to see a rebound in the local economy. The return of the road comes just ahead of the Labor Day weekend and the start of the school year.
Lake Andes and the entire region will benefit greatly with the re-opening of the highway, according to Charles Mix County Emergency Manager Mike Kotab. The closed road has hurt the local recreation season for both the lake and the nearby Missouri River, he said.
"To have the road open again is great for the community of Lake Andes as it opens up two main U.S. highways and a state highway," he said. "This should help bring the economy back a little in this small community. But it is getting late in the season for many campers and fishermen, which is a great chunk of the tourist income."
The re-opened highway will also ease the daily stress for both local residents and those who come to Lake Andes for the courthouse and other services, Kotab said. With the closed road, travelers have been forced to take lengthy detours even for nearby destinations.
"The members of this community and the ones that work in Lake Andes are very excited to have this road open again," he said. "It will ease some of the congestion they (have been) dealing with when traveling to and from Wagner via Pickstown due to road construction. This will definitely ease some of the daily travels back and forth for many citizens and employees in Charles Mix County."
With its re-opening, Highway 18/281/50 should be able to handle any type of traffic, according to Jay Peppel, the SDDOT’s Mitchell area engineer.
"There should not be a need for any restrictions on this section. This will be the final product for this year," he told the Press & Dakotan last week.
"Once the water levels recede to normal elevations, we will let (bids on) another project to fix the slopes along the roadway, extend or repair any culverts in the area and tie the west housing approach into the new grade line elevation."
The Charles Mix County sheriff’s office reminds travelers of the speed limit of 40 miles per hour on the highway east of Lake Andes.
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