Image coutesy ISG Engineering/Architecture
This birds-eye view of the proposed suspension sidewalk in downtown Hot Springs shows how the walkway would be supported by a series of cables attached to overhanging steel flange beams. If approved, the suspension sidewalk would be part of the state’s Hwy. 385 reconstruction project that begins in 2021. It would be located along North River Street, starting at the Jennings Avenue bridge and extend north 400 yards, stopping short of Minnekahta Avenue in the area of Pistol Patty’s and Cascade Coffee. According to Mayor George Kotti, its primary purpose is safety-related as it would allow for wider driving lanes and a wider sidewalk on the other side of the street. A secondary purpose is to create a draw for people to come downtown and patronize local businesses.
City Council to consider offer by state to pay for suspension sidewalk in exchange for city taking over responsibilities of University Avenue
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – The Hot Springs City Council next month will likely vote on a proposal by the South Dakota Department of Transportation which would make a reality of a long-discussed downtown suspension sidewalk along North River Street.
While the DOT has agreed to pay the approximate $2.8 million price tag on the 1,208 linear foot sidewalk project from Jennings Avenue to nearly Minnekahta Avenue, their proposal to do so includes a concession that the City of Hot Springs take over the maintenance and repair of University Avenue. The move would then take the through-town portion of Hwy. 18 – from Dairy Queen to the downtown stoplight – off of the state’s highway system and reroute it to the truck bypass in the southwest part of the community. The roadway through downtown Hot Springs however would still remain a highway as Hwy. 385 runs all the way through town.
According to Hot Springs Mayor George Kotti, the proposal by the state is a good thing for Hot Springs for many reasons, but primarily because it pays for and addresses what the city has identified as a significant safety flaw in the state’s original plan to reconstruct Hwy. 385 through downtown Hot Springs. In addition, Kotti, said the suspension sidewalk would also create a draw for visitors to the downtown area which would benefit local businesses.
While the state’s proposal includes some “strings attached” that means the city will now have more responsibilities in relation to University Avenue, the main sticking point – the two bridges that span Garden Street and Fall River, which locals refer to as “the viaduct” – has been taken off of the city’s shoulders in relation to the agreement.
Kotti said City Engineer Tracy Bastian did an analysis of the state’s original proposal, which included responsibility for the bridges, and determined that it would not be feasible for the city.
Bastian’s analysis found that the upper portion of University Avenue was in good condition and endured a mostly-urban traffic load, with only occasional large truck traffic. However, the lower portion of the University Avenue – which includes the viaduct – was not in as good of condition and could likely some day require up to $30 million to repair or replace the bridges.
By taking the bridge responsibilities out of the agreement, it was determined with input from the streets department, that the city could absorb the additional responsibilities for the upper portion of University. These responsibilities would then include routine maintenance like snow removal – which the city already shares with the DOT – along with any other surfacing repairs that may come up due to wear or damages.
After much back-and-forth and discussions with the state over the past few months, Kotti said the DOT, with the vital support of Gov. Kristi Noem, recently came back with a new proposal that removes the bridges from the agreement.
Kotti, who has been working with the state’s DOT since September 2017 when he first proposed the idea of what was then-known as a “cantilever sidewalk” over the flood wall, said the state has been mostly supportive of the city’s concept the entire time but it always came down to who was going to pay for it.
“The DOT had always called the sidewalk an ‘enhancement,’ but we don’t think it is,” Kotti said, while he described how the city feels it is a necessary feature along North River Street which addresses the narrow ‘bottleneck’ section of the downtown highway. Kotti said based on his own observations and a safety study done by Councilman Bill Lukens, that area of town has proven to be a danger zone of close calls involving pedestrians, trucks and tourism-related traffic.
Under the DOT’s original design proposal of the Hwy. 385 reconstruction through town, slated to begin next year, the plan is to construct a new sidewalk on the river side and then narrow the existing sidewalk on the business side of the roadway. The plans also call for flip-flopping the current parallel parking to the river side, and the diagonal parking to the business side.
In order to build the new “river side” sidewalk, a retention fence would be built to provide a buffer between the walkway and the retaining wall above the river. In addition, the current “business side” sidewalk would need to be made narrower to accommodate the additional space needed on the other side of the road. The net result caused by changes to both sidewalks then also creates a narrowing of both driving lanes of the highway. Given the high amount of truck and tourist traffic along North River Street, Mayor Kotti said this was unacceptable, which is why the city came up with the cantilever sidewalk concept in 2017.
That initial “cantilever sidewalk” concept the city first proposed involved building an overhanging sidewalk above the river which was supported by beams anchored onto the existing flood wall itself. That design was however rejected by the Corps of Engineers, which manages the floodway through Hot Springs. The city then went back to the drawing board and came up with a new “suspension sidewalk” design which utilizes a series of steel columns and flange beams to support the sidewalk instead. That new design garnered more support from the Corps and also proved to be more cost effective.
In 2018, the City of Hot Springs allocated $25,000 to hire the architectural and engineering firm ISG to develop some preliminary plans for the suspension sidewalk. Those designs are available now at city hall and were planned to be showcased at some public meetings slated for this week. Due to the city’s COVID-19 precautions, those meetings have since been put on hold.
The initial conceptual designs by ISG include cutting off the existing parapet at the top of the flood wall, and then extending a 6-foot, 6-inch wide composite bridge deck out towards the river. The deck would then be anchored to the top of the existing flood wall on one side, and also supported on the other side by a cable hanging down from a steel beam above and attached to a railing. This extended walkway then replaces the need to construct a sidewalk on the “river side” land that can then instead be utilized for a wider driving lanes and a wider “business side” sidewalk.
In addition to the safety enhancements provided by the wider driving lanes, Mayor Kotti said an important secondary benefit of the suspension sidewalk is the economic boost it will provide to Hot Springs’ downtown area as it would become an attraction and “do something to get people to stop.”
While not part of the suspension sidewalk construction plan, Kotti said another integral aspect of the overall success of the sidewalk will be to cleanup Fall River area below the sidewalk. He said the city has already begun looking into how that can be done, which includes removing the cattails, building paths to take people closer to the river.