The South Rochford Road project has been discussed and worked on since May of 2004 when the Pennington County Federal Aid Surface Transportation Program resolution was approved.
In recent years, there have been special Pennington County Board of Commissioners meetings, such as two held in June of 2017 and one in June of 2018, to help get the project moving.
On Feb. 14, the preliminary plans for the project were received, and Feb. 19, the board of commissioners motioned to sign a work order with KLJ Engineering to design the South Rochford Road bridge.
The right-of-way acquisition is set to begin in the summer of this year.
At a Lions Club meeting in Hill City Monday, March 4, the plan for the project was unveiled by Joe Miller, the recently hired highway superintended for Pennington County.
“I want to keep everyone up to date as to what is going on with the project,” said Ron Rossknecht, Pennington County commissioner for District 1. “It has been 14 years since this project started.”
An agreement between the South Dakota Department of Transportation and Pennington County to get the project done has been in place since 2006, however, there have been hang ups with the project, particularly regarding the environmental assessment.
In November of 2009, there was a letter from the South Dakota Department of Transportation saying that it could not honor their commitment to provide an environmental assessment for the project and suggested the county hire a qualified consultant to perform the assessment.
In March of 2010, a letter was sent from the South Dakota Department of Transportation saying that the Federal Highway Administration would require an environmental impact statement instead of an environmental assessment due to concerns of tribal officials.
In January 2012, a National Environmental Policy Act Notice of Intent was issued to proceed with the work.
A new roadway width was adopted in September 2015, which meant that an environmental impact statement was no longer needed and an environmental assessment could be used instead.
That all paved the way for the decision last month to begin work on the bridge.
Bid letting will begin in the fall, and Miller said he hopes to begin construction on the bridge in 2020 for a fall 2020 completion date.
Concerns of where the traffic will run through was raised by Christy Hawthorne, Hill City resident and president of the Heart of the Hills Economic Development Corp.
Most of the traffic, Miller said, will probably come through Deerfield.
The bridge is the first point of focus, Miller said, because it was constructed in the 1940s and deterioration has started on the bridge.
“After the last 60 to 80 years, the timbers have begun to fail,” Miller said.
A culvert cannot be put in, he added, so a bridge with a concrete arch will be built.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation is still picking up most of the cost of the total project, Miller said, with the county only responsible for roughly 18 percent of the total project.
The whole project is estimated to cost roughly $10 million, he added, with $1.5 million to $2 million needed for the bridge project.
“It is imperative to get this project done as soon as possible,” Rossknecht said. “That cost is not going to go down.”
It costs $7,000 per mile to maintain an asphalt road, Miller said, and by his estimations, it would cost the same or more to maintain a gravel road.
The commission hopes to get started on a project on Sheridan Lake Road, Miller said, which means it looks like “a lot” of projects will be started at once.
Given the amount of time the project has already taken, some members of the audience were positive yet skeptical of the new timeline.
“Are you telling us that at the end of 2020 the road will be done?” asked Jay Hendrickson, Hill City resident.
Miller said he could not guarantee that, however, he said he would do his “darndest” to get the project done by 2021.
Overall, though, those in attendance at the meeting left with a positive feeling regarding the project.
“This road makes sense for the Hills,” Rossknecht said.