Meade Co. ranchers not happy with road plan

Rancher Kirk Erickson looks over a map with project manager Stacia Slowey showing the proposed route of a future road connecting 143rd Avenue and Erickson Ranch Road. Pioneer photo by Deb Holland

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SUMMERSET — Some Meade County ranchers are not happy with a future road plan that would cut through their pastureland and bring additional traffic.

Several years ago, Meade County identified the need for an additional east-west connection between Erickson Ranch Road and 143rd Avenue. Currently that traffic is carried by Elk Creek Road to the north. 

The preferred route for this road would traverse rolling hills north of the Meade County/Pennington County line.

Meade County, in conjunction with the Rapid City Metropolitan Planning Organization, the South Dakota Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration, contracted with HDR Engineering, Inc. to perform the Southern Meade County Corridor study. 

HDR presented its findings and named a preferred alternative for the road at a public meeting Thursday at Stagebarn Middle School.

“It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of. It makes absolutely no sense at this point,” said rancher Jay McPherson, whose land is in the path of the proposed road.

There is not enough development in this area to warrant building such a road, McPherson said.

“Who knows when it might happen, if it ever does,” he said.

Would he ever sell his ranchland in southern Meade County for development?

“I can’t say never, but it sure as hell ain’t going to be anytime soon,” he said.

Rancher Kirk Erickson, whose land lies along the proposed road, agreed saying he has no plans to sell his land to a housing developer.

“As long as I’m able to ranch, I’ll be out there running cattle,” said the fourth-generation rancher.

Meade County Commissioner and longtime county planning committee member Talbot Wieczorek said he understands that the ranchers in the affected area have been on the land for generations.

“This just assures that if they were to sell their land to a developer, we could then turn to the developer and tell them this is a road access. We need it here and you have to build it,” he said.

McPherson said that anyone living in these areas north of Rapid City doesn’t have very far to go to hit Interstate 90.

“Anytime the government comes up with some idea that is going to help everybody, they never consider how it is affecting people that are actually involved in it,” he said.

Wieczorek said the Southern Meade County Corridor Study isn’t even at a point where the proposed road would be staked out. He said the process of choosing is to preserve a corridor so that if somebody comes in and starts building there, they will know the future plan.

 “There is no money the county has set aside to build this road or start construction,” he said. 

The MEADE Moving Forward 2040 Transportation Plan identified the need for an additional east-west connection between Erickson Ranch Road and 143rd Avenue.

 “We’re planning roads out there decades ahead,” Wieczorek said.

People need only drive around areas of Meade County where development has occurred without a plan to know that it has been done haphazardly, Wieczorek said. 

“When you don’t plan appropriately for the roads, all of a sudden you’ve got all these little developments, but the roads to and from those developments are not appropriate,” he said.

That ends up diminishing everyone’s property value, even the ranchers who are surrounding the developments, Wieczorek said.

“The access starts to get bad, then the housing starts to get bad, then they become rentals and there is less care. So, planning for this stuff in the future is something we really need to do,” he said.

The ultimate goal of the Southern Meade County Corridor Study was to identify reasonable and feasible alternatives for a proposed corridor and define the vision for the road’s access and intersection control, overall safety, and mobility, said project manager Stacia Slowey. 

She said a Study Advisory Team (SAT) was assembled to guide the study through completion. 

Traffic for current and future conditions was forecasted and analyzed to determine the safety and operational needs of the existing roadway network as well as the proposed corridor. And, an environmental scan was performed with a 500-foot buffer surrounding the study corridor. 

Alternatives, including a no build option, were investigated for the proposed connector road, Slowey said. Throughout the process, public involvement was gathered through SAT meetings, public open houses, landowner meetings, and a project-specific study website. 

A total of 12 build alternatives were considered during the preliminary alternatives screening process. Subsequently, these were narrowed down to three feasible build alternatives. Ultimately, one alternative was recommended based on the purpose and need, landowner impacts, safety, constructability, and cost, Slowey said. 

You can find the draft report at http://www.southernmeadecountycorridorstudy.com/assets/documents/Draft_Report_(MCC%20Study)_2019-1029.pdf

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