GAYVILLE — There's a familiar sight along Highway 50 near Gayville.
Since the week of April 5, construction crews have returned to complete the rebuilding of the eastbound lanes — a project that was begun last year — resulting in traffic being routed into a single lane once more.
However, residents won't have to wait too long before the highway is open again, officials say.
"They're hoping by the end of May they'll be all done here, so it's just a month and a half of work," said Ron Peterson, Yankton-area engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation. "We just had a staff meeting of engineers (Tuesday) morning, and the project engineer said things are going good. We've got some nice warm, dry weather, which is real conducive to road work in the spring, so it's going well."
Knife River Midwest of Sioux City, Iowa, is the contractor for the $11.4 million project.
The company had hoped to have work completed on the nine-mile project last year, but it wasn't in the cards, Peterson said.
"The season just ran out on them last fall," he said. "They had one mile of grading and reconstruction work yet to do, so that's part of what's underway right now."
Additionally, the shoulders on the highway were not completed for the entire job, so crews have been working to put an underdrain system o each shoulder that carries the moisture out from under the road.
"That's done now, and they're preparing the shoulders for the asphalt hot mix that goes on those," Peterson said. "The underdrain system went in relatively fast, the grading is going good, and the shoulder prep appears to be going well, too. So everything is on a good course right now."
But reconstruction is the project's main focus, and Peterson said it's a complicated process.
"(Crews have to) remove the old surface, the old concrete, the asphalt that was on it, reprocess the subgrade — the dirt that was underneath — and undercut it two feet, rework it, relay it, dry it out, get it stable to a dense state, and put a new mixture of gravel on it as a base, and the new concrete pavement on top of that," he said.
Reconstructing that section of the highway was a necessity, as the concrete had originally been installed in the 1930s.
"It was shot," Peterson said. "It had been overlaid several times, and that asphalt overlay had oxidized right out. It was crumbling, pot-holing, rutting. The road had no shoulders for safety. So it was in dire need of construction for the heavy volumes of traffic that use Highway 50."
It is "somewhat common" for a highway to have a base that old, he said.
"Some of that is still under there coming from Vermillion westbound toward Gayville, and that's in the program for 2012 reconstruction. There's still a little bit of it east of Vermilion from the interstate to Vermillion," Peterson said.
The reason it stayed for such a long time was financial.
"Money got tight and we didn't have the resources to totally reconstruct it, so an asphalt hot mix was put over it to add some strength and ridability for the short-term until funds became available to reconstruct the road and add the shoulders and do all the safety enhancements," Peterson said.
While the project is being completed, Peterson said motorists must use "defensive driving" when they're in the work area.
"It's a reduced-speed situation," he said. "There is still a lot of traffic turning in from the side roads and those crossovers. Coming out of Gayville, that seemed to be somewhat of an accident spot last year. People just weren't watching as the phases of construction equipment changed."
The South Dakota Department of Transportation recorded five non-fatal accidents in the construction zone last year.
In most cases, drivers pulled out in front of other vehicles, Yankton County Sheriff Dave Hunhoff said last year.
"I think it's just a lot of traffic, and a lot of people get in the habit of turning one way or not looking for traffic in a direction they're not used to," Hunhoff said. "It's just a difficult situation because there's so much traffic on that road. (The SDDOT was) concerned when we met before the construction started. They said they'd do everything they could to work with us to reduce accidents and help us when they occur. A certain amount of accidents happen, and I don't know what could be done to change it."
Peterson added: "Motorists just need to be well aware of their surroundings out there, of the construction traffic entering and leaving their lanes, and the fact that all the traffic is now in one set of lanes."