By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – A good contingent of Hot Springs business owners, city council members, city staff and concerned citizens attended a formal meeting of the South Dakota Department of Transportation in Rapid City last Thursday night, July 12.
The meeting was one of four held all across the state in the month of July, to outline the plans and goals of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which includes the state’s plans to reconstruct Highway 18/385 through downtown Hot Springs. This project is scheduled to begin sometime during Fiscal Year 2021, with the bid-letting process beginning in FY 2020.
According to Mayor George Kotti, about 15 people from Hot Springs attended with most all of the speaking about the state’s proposed plans as it relates to downtown Hot Springs, which he said, was “enough to dominate the room.” Kotti said there was also one speaker from Belle Fourche and another from Piedmont, but most all other audience comments related most to how the Hwy. 385 plans would potentially negatively impact downtown businesses and pedestrians.
Of utmost concern to those speaking from Hot Springs, Kotti said, was how the state’s current plans do not adequately address the city’s safety concerns of reversing parking along River Street (between Jennings and Minnekahta Ave) so that diagonal parking will be on the east side toward the businesses and parallel parking on the west side near Fall River. Included in the state’s current plan is to add a six-foot sidewalk along the Fall River floodwall, keeping the same narrow traffic lane width and then narrowing the sidewalks on the business-side of the street.
On numerous occasions, the city has come forward and opposed this plan and cited concerns of safety, as well as the negative impact to businesses and the historical significance to downtown Hot Springs with the narrower sidewalks.
As reported earlier in the process, City of Hot Springs’ solution to this concern was the addition of a cantilever sidewalk on the river side of the street, which would provide an elevated walking area above the river, away from traffic, and aid with pedestrian safety while also creating a unique and revitalizing attraction to the downtown area. The state has previously said they will not fund such an endeavor, but according to Kotti, have not completely ruled out the option if the city would pay for it.
Kotti estimates the cost for the cantilever sidewalk to be in the neighborhood of $2 million, an approximate 11 percent increase to the cost of the entire project. Kotti said this is something the city cannot afford to do alone, so he asking for assistance from the SD-DOT.
According to Mayor Kotti, the city is already looking at additional income sources through grants and other means, so they are not asking for the state to pickup the entire cost of the project. He however added that the city is already being forced to fund other infrastructure improvements to go along with the highway reconstruction through town. In addition, due to the accessibility to downtown businesses during the project, the city is also anticipating a drop in sales tax revenue making it even more difficult for the city to have funds to solely pay for the cantilever sidewalk project.
Brian Powers, who is a North River Street business owner and the Chairman of the Hot Springs Historic District, spoke at the meeting and said he has great concerns for how the state’s plans will negatively impact his businesses, not only during the reconstruction itself due to eliminating parking and hampering pedestrian traffic during the summer months, but also how long-term effects of the narrower sidewalks will eliminate the outdoor seating for his ice cream business, which does not offer indoor seating.
Powers also has concerns about how the narrower sidewalks negatively impacts the look of the town’s historic downtown area.
Overall, Kotti said the feedback provided by the Hot Springs contingent was very articulate and respectful to the panel of DOT personnel and that he felt what everyone said did make in impact on the officials. He said one of the things he tried to impress upon the DOT members was how the cantilever sidewalk concept applied to each of the goals of the DOT, especially in terms of ensuring safety but also in ensuring that the concept will take advantage of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to enhance Hot Springs’ downtown for the generations to come.
Kotti noted that the city of Hot Springs will want to avoid what happened in Lead recently, where downtown businesses on the north side of Main Street are boxed in via a railing as a result of a SD-DOT reconstruction project.
Powers, who feels the cantilever sidewalk is a good investment of money on the part of both the state and the city, said that one of the ironies of this discussion is how the state had originally come to the town and wanting to use such innovative concepts like building a downtown bike lane, as well as utilizing unique reverse-diagonal parking. He said both of those ideas were scrapped because of safety concerns. Now, he said, the city is coming to them with an innovative idea like the cantilever sidewalk, which actually promotes safety, but they’re currently not considering it.
Photo courtesy Brian Powers
Hot Springs City Council President Bob Nelson addresses South Dakota Dept. of Transportation officials at a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program meeting held last week in Rapid City. Nelson was one of about 15 people from Hot Springs who attended, including a number of other council representatives, business owners, city staff and chamber of commerce representatives.