This illustration – submitted by Hot Springs residents Carol Foster and Barb Rosane to the SD-DOT – displays the duo’s suggestions of how the intersection could be made safer. Their ideas include closing off the main entrance into Coffee Cup Travel Plaza and forcing customers to instead enter the business through either of the two existing frontage road entrances located to the north or the south. They also suggest the creation of a westbound turning lane located much further north than the current turning lane, and also building peel-off/merge lanes from the north and to the south where Fall River Road meets the intersection. A reduced speed limit to 45 mph, from the current 55 mph, is also suggested at the intersection.
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – For anyone who has lived in the Hot Springs area for several years, there likely seems to be at least two highway intersections which predominantly have had the majority of vehicle crashes over the years.
One of those is at the bottom of the Hwy. 18 truck bypass which connects travelers to and from S.D. Highway 71 (Cascade Road), and the other is the so-called Maverick Junction intersection about five miles east of town, which merges U.S. Highways 18/385 and S.D. Highway 79.
The most recent accident at Maverick Junction took place on Friday, Sept. 29, and involved a semi-truck headed west and pulling out of the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop into traffic and striking a motorhome traveling south. The driver of the semi-truck was not injured, but the driver of the motorhome did suffer serious but non-life threatening injuries and was transported to Fall River Hospital.
In the weeks following that incident, a pair of longtime Hot Springs residents – Carol Foster and Barb Rosane – got together to discuss the seemingly all-too-common accidents at Maverick Junction and brainstormed some ideas.
Their ideas were then put into a letter and sent to several employees of the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SD-DOT), as well as all of the District 30 state legislators, requesting that the state take a close look at the intersection and make alterations which may hopefully reduce the number of accidents in the future.
“Because of the speed vehicles are going north and south, accidents here can be deadly,” stated Foster and Rosane in the letter. “Even without an accident occurring, citizens of Fall River believe the intersection to be difficult to navigate safely. Specifically, it is dangerous to enter north or south from Hot Springs/Fall River Road. Entry to go North and South has view blocked with oncoming traffic. It becomes a blind entry.”
The letter also said, “state statistics show that there have been 39 crashes in a ten year period.” However, it was pointed out by the author in a follow-up email that those numbers include all crashes (also counting deer collisions) that occurred within a one mile radius of the intersection.
The letter also included a diagrammed map and a coordinating list of suggestions, as follows:
• Peel off/exit lane with turning ramp on the NW (traveling from Rapid City to Hot Springs)
• Separate entry/merge lane for the SW corners (traveling from Hot Springs toward Nebraska).
• Lower grade on these lanes so that cars trying to enter N & S can actually see the traffic coming.
• Separate them from the main highway.
• Start the turn lane southbound at the top of the hill on 79 to turn into Hot Springs.
• Close the Coffee Cup entrance at the intersection.
• Traffic will enter Coffee Cup by means of the north or south entrances to the service road.
• Fix the service road and widen entries to allow access. Pave, widen, ramp.
• Lower speed at intersection to 45mph.
The letter concluded by stating, “We would appreciate your consideration in making this intersection safe for all traveling. It is a large intersection and it takes a great deal of time to get clear and up to speed. It also is nearly impossible for fast moving vehicles to slow and avoid an accident when someone cuts out in front of them. This is even more pronounced with motor homes and semi trucks.”
One of the SD-DOT officials who received the letter was Rich Zacher, Custer Area Engineer, who later sent out the following statement on behalf of the DOT.
“The SDDOT conducts regular reviews of our highways and intersections to ensure that we stay acquainted with highway safety and traffic volume concerns at those locations. Occasionally we will conduct a more focused review, called a safety audit, at specific locations. Conducting a safety audit means that we assemble a team of highway and safety professionals to review crash history, highway and intersection design, road conditions, and safety. As part of that audit, recommendations are made. The recommendations can vary from doing nothing to full reconstruction of the intersection, and everything in between. As a result of this inquiry, we will conduct a Safety Audit for this intersection in the coming months. To-date, we have stayed apprised of crash concerns there and have made improvements at the intersection to address some of them. A recent improvement is covered in a bit more detail below.
“Of the crashes at this location, we have already taken steps to eliminate the most prevalent crash type, accounting for almost one-quarter of the crashes in the last 10 years. Those crashes would occur when southbound motorists were slowing to turn right during slick conditions, and would then slide through their turn, crashing into eastbound motorists waiting to enter the intersection. To address those crashes, we installed a high friction surface, consisting of epoxy covered with fine rock on the road surface. The additional friction created by this surface greatly reduces the chance of motorists sliding as they slow to turn. Since making that improvement five years ago, that type of crash has been eliminated. The dark pavement on the image below is the location of the high friction surface treatment.
“We will review the additional information for improvements suggested in the letter from Barb Rosane and Carol Foster. We do utilize at least one of the options noted for consideration. In 2020, the SDDOT installed an offset right turn lane in Hot Springs for eastbound Highway 18 to southbound S.D. Highway 71 motorists. We’ve also used them in the past on Highway 79 to the north of this location at Spring Creek Road and the Rapid City Landfill. Regarding Maverick Junction, a more detailed analysis would need to be completed before making a determination as to whether such a turn lane would reduce crashes. This analysis will be completed during a safety audit.”
Tom Heinz, President of Heinz, Inc., a family-owned company operating the TA Express/Coffee Cup Travel Plaza, said his company’s top-priority is always the safety of their team members, customers and the traveling public.
Despite his company not being one of the recipients of the initial letter containing the suggestions, when reached for comment by telephone last week, Heinz expressed his full confidence in the state and federal agencies who design and oversee the safety and construction of the highway system.
Based on his own 43 years’ experience of owning and operating multiple high-traffic travel plazas through a four-state area – all of which deal or dealt with a much higher volume of traffic than Hot Springs – Heinz said the number one factor that he sees as a deterrent to crashes is speed. For that reason, he would not be opposed to a decrease in speed limit in front of his company’s location near Hot Springs.
“Obviously, closing our main entrance would be devastating for business while confusing drivers and increasing the likelihood of more accidents,” Heinz said. “Our clearly visible, main entrance combined with the two frontage road exits is optimal for traffic flow.” Therefore, Heinz said he is “vehemently opposed” to the idea of closing off his business’s main entrance and forcing travelers to access it through one of two frontage entrances.
“Anything we can do to help support the safety of travel in and around Hot Springs, we’re all in favor,” added Heinz, while again expressing his confidence in the state and federal agencies whose job it is to analyze safety data, maintain commerce, and take the appropriate actions.
One of the District 30 legislators who also received the initial letter was Trish Ladner of Hot Springs. Rep. Ladner said that over the past summer, she and fellow District 30 Representative Dennis Krull had met on several occasions with Zacher regarding concerns related to the ongoing Hwy. 385 reconstruction project through downtown Hot Springs.
“In those meetings, Mr. Zacher listened, and was very responsive to their input and concerns,” Rep. Ladner said. “Last week I gave Mr. Zacher a call to discuss the concerns surrounding the Maverick Junction intersection and the suggestions outlined by our local citizens. He told me that their concerns had his attention and they would be doing a safety audit to evaluate all options available to correct any issues noted in the audit. In the past, similar concerns were reported to him about the intersections at Hermosa and Crazy Horse. Those concerns were corrected by the DOT and I have confidence that the concerns surrounding Maverick Junction will be corrected as well.”
Ladner concluded by saying she would follow up with Zacher in a few weeks to check on the progress of the safety audit.