Left Turn on Omaha Piles up Traffic

Long lines in the left turn lane from Mt. Rushmore Road to Omaha Street are a daily sight by Central High School. Changing the light’s timing is no simple procedure, however.

By Chase Howe

A large percentage of Central students leave school by going to the stop light at the intersection of Mt. Rushmore Road and Omaha Street. Some of Central’s students go straight up Mt. Rushmore Road, some turn right on Omaha, and many others turn left on Omaha. But unlike the other lanes, the left lane is always backed up. This is because the green arrow is nowhere near long enough to get more than 100 cars through it after school in a reasonable amount of time.

“It is pretty dumb. It is short for after school and then it is long on weekends,” senior Wyatt Winchell said. “Just make it longer.” Even during events like Rush games and the Black Hills Stock Show, this green arrow still doesn’t get any longer. This leads to a higher risk of car accidents because so many people are pressing to get through the light before it turns red.

“There are 3 things that decide how long a light is,” said Rapid City traffic engineer Steve Frooman. “One of the things is the coordination with the other signals around it. One is the base minimum requirement of how long the light needs to be, due to the geometry of the intersection and how many lanes there are, and another is the number of vehicles that go through.”

What makes this intersection weird, along with all the other intersections on Omaha Street, is that Omaha Street is a South Dakota highway. This means that the South Dakota Department of Transportation has full control of this intersection and the traffic signals even though it intersects with a city street. “This makes it hard for the city to change it, because we have to go through the State and they may decline our request,” Frooman said.

All of the lights on Omaha run on a timer and some of the lanes run by a camera, so when a car shows up in the lane it gives the signal to the lights to switch. But because some of these lights are run on a timer, valuable time is wasted. The Department of Transportation is coming up with more creative ways to use this time, including creating more lanes so more cars can get through in the time allowed, or even redesigning the intersection completely.

Until then, Central students will simply have to wait to turn left.