For years the owner of the fabled Buffalo Chip Campground east of Sturgis and others in that area have wanted a bypass to Interstate 90, allowing travelers to skip the trip through town.
But with work moving fast on the 5.6-mile project to connect Interstate 90 at Exit 37 with Highway 34 near the Buffalo Chip, Woodruff expresses an excitement that isn’t shared by all.
“The difference it’s going to make is it’s going to open up traffic to the east side of Sturgis,” he said. “All the businesses that are east of Sturgis, the ranchers who are around here and the people from Newell will have a direct route to Exit 37.”
Woodruff sees the bypass, about 2.5 miles of which is new road being carved out of the hilly terrain, as a smooth ride into the future. But others see it as a road to conflict.
Sturgis City manager Daniel Ainslie says businesses in town worry about lost traffic. And county taxpayers wonder how the county can pay up to $1.6 million to build the road and then cover ongoing maintenance when existing county roads are in need.
“You know, there’s a lot of concern about construction of the road and how safe it’s going to be, and also the county’s ability to maintain it,” Ainslie said.
The gravel and terrain will limit speeds on the bypass, which will also limit general traffic.
“But that being said, any traffic is an item that a lot of businesses have issue with,” Ainslie said.
Standing on a ridge midway through the construction zone, Woodruff pointed out a new and striking view of Bear Butte off to the north. He expects the ridge to become a point of awe and photography for travelers.
And the good news goes much deeper than picturesque landscape images to Woodruff.
Business development and tax revenues will increase with better access to the eastern side of Sturgis, benefiting economics in the area overall, he said. And traffic flow during the tourism season – particularly during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in early August – will benefit from another route from the Interstate to Highway 34 heading east out of town and Highway 79 going north past Bear Butte to Newell and beyond, Woodruff said.
“The ranchers and folks when the interstate went through, they first petitioned for this way back then,” he said. “They’ve been frustrated for years. Some of the ranchers are absolutely elated.”
The new access route will help Woodruff’s already successful campground and Sturgis Motorcycle rally party venue, and others nearby. But he says it will also offer another access option to the Fort Meade VA health Center, an essential medical provider in an area along Highway 34 where traffic can be clogged for hours during the rally.
“The road is a big step toward making Fort Meade more convenient and serving those veterans,” he said.
Ainslie hopes for the best from the new road, but he’s among those with serious concerns. Opponents had sought a vote on the project, efforts that were denied by the Meade County Commission and a local judge.
Voters did reject a more ambitious bypass plan early last year that would have cost more, involved a paved road instead of gravel and required tax-increment financing. Woodruff maintains that the vote was on the TIF plan, not on the idea of a bypass. Ainslie says many opponents believe voters thought the election was a vote on the TIP and a sort of referendum on the idea of a bypass.
The new road is schedule for completion this summer. With good weather, Woodruff predicts it will be done sooner.