New signs thanks to finance officer

Leslie Silverman

Those familiar with the Oreville interchange will notice a new sign directing drivers to Keystone.

“Keystone turn right at next signal” adorns a new sign on the right side of the road as drivers turn onto state Hwy. 244 east from Hwy. 16 north. There is a similar sign for southbound Highway 16 motorists, as well.

The idea for the sign came from Keystone resident Ray French and town trustee Sandi McLain.

The idea was mentioned by McLain at a February Keystone Town Board meeting.  Cassandra Ott, town finance officer, reached out to the state to see how to go about changing the sign, which previously only directed drivers at the exchange down Hwy. 244 past Mount Rushmore National Memorial or down Hwy. 16 to Hill City, never mentioning the town of Keystone.

Ott was directed to South Dakota Department of Transportation officials in Rapid City, who, at that time, did not immediately respond to a detailed letter than included pictures of the current signage.

In August Ott reached out again. This time she was able to reach regional operations engineer Tom Horan, who was, in Ott’s words, “horrified we had not seen a response to the letter and it had been six months. He pulled a few strings and three weeks later I got a call from someone who said ‘we’ve been discussing the sign thing. We think we need to put something in because the driving amount from the Oreville intersection through Hill City and the distance from there the Mount Rushmore National Memorial way is the same.’ Because of that they agreed that the signs needed to be there for Keystone. There was not enough space on the big overhead signs for Keystone because those are engineered to handle a certain amount of wind and there’s not enough space for it, so they put signs on the lower portion of the road that point to Keystone.”

According to Horan, the cost to change an overhead sign can be $50,000 to $100,000. The two shoulder-mounted signs cost $500 a piece including labor.

The decision to include a sign for Keystone at the intersection came after considerable review. The trip from the Oreville intersection to Keystone via Hwy. 244 is a few minutes shorter than taking Hwy. 16 to the pigtail bridges.

According to Google Maps it is 3.1 miles shorter.

“There’s always an alternative interest,” Horan said. “Would Hill City businesses have a concern because we’re now bypassing Hill City? In the end we have a responsibility to motorists.”

As for how McLain realized there was a problem, she said, “I was driving down the road and it says going to Hill City so I thought it was just a political move on the part of Hill City because they didn’t want them to go to Keystone. So that’s why I thought they did that.”

She also heard about the lack of signage from tourists who frequented her business. 

“People would come to the mine and say, ‘Gosh they don’t have a sign down there for Keystone,’” McLain said. “To let you know what’s on the other side of Mount Rushmore.’”

McLain gives credit for the new sign to Ott.

“She was the one who was so persistent,” McLain said. “I’m glad we did it. But it’s persistence like that when you work with an organization that’s big because things get lost.”

“It’s just a small thing but I’m hoping it will help tourism next year,” Ott said.

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