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Project Profile3 min read

Box Culverts Speed up Highway Completion


ACPA-Image-Box-Culvert-Allows-For-Quick-Completion-of-Highways-1Box Culverts Allow for Quick Completion of U.S. Highway 83 Reconstruction

The north-south highway U.S. Highway 83 is an integral part of our National Highway System, cutting across South Dakota and America’s heartland. The highway was once the only paved route extending from Canada to Mexico, and it stretches through six states. To keep transportation running smoothly for the crucial agricultural and energy sectors in those states, access and connectivity enhancements were deemed necessary.


ACPA-Image-Box-Culverts-Allow-for-Quick-Completion-2The project was approved to provide the proper grading, structures, and surfacing for the highway. The overall impact to the community was to straighten, widen and flatten the slopes to improve public safety on the highway. Pipe manufacturer Forterra worked with the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) on the project to reconstruct U.S. Highway 83 near Murdo, South Dakota.

SDDOT planned to move forward with grading, freight climbing lanes, resurfacing, drainage, shoulder work, and other features along the 23 miles of the highway. The project was an important component of a longer corridor augmentation along the highway between South Dakota and Nebraska.

The job faced a two-month challenge due to the extreme rainy seasons of spring and summer. Soils in that region contain a high clay content, and even the smallest amount of precipitation would turn it into a problematic mud pit. Additionally, the crane only had a four-day window to work on the site and the contractor faced a challenge finding proper amount of trucks to use during the installation process.


Due the jobsite challenges, it was decided that the best solution for the upgrades would include precast concrete box culvert, precast concrete cattle passes and reinforced concrete pipe. The project consisted of single cell box culvert (SGL) and double cell box culvert (DBL), 13x11x204-foot-long precast concrete box culvert with a maximum fill height of 26 feet, 16-inch top and bottom slabs, DBL 13x11x4-foot sections weighing 65,500 pounds, 232 feet of SGL, and 7×7-foot precast concrete box culvert for cattle passes. The installation used 100 pieces of box culvert for the three 13×11-foot sections.

The project was located 130 miles from the pipe manufacturer’s Rapid City location, which aided the quick turnaround. The four-day installation process used a 200-ton crane located at the same excavation site as the box in order to set the pieces, which was necessary due to the section weight.

The crane was set up in the bottom of the excavation due to the depth of fill over the box culvert. The hole was approximately 40-feet deep. A road had to be cut in halfway up from the bottom for the trucks to deliver the sections.

Challenges included transporting 100 sections more than 130 miles to the project with a limited number of trucks. Additionally, the summer of 2019 broke precipitation records in western South Dakota. A very wet jobsite also limited the delivery window to a few days in between storms.


This section of Highway 83 benefitted from a total reconstruction. Slopes were flattened and curves were straightened to make travel much safer for the public. All reinforced concrete pipe and precast concrete box culvert crossings were upsized to improve drainage as well.

The project was completed on October 14, 2019. A major benefit of using precast box culverts included the quick installation, which reduced any chance of delays occurring as can happen with cast-in-place in the wet spring and summer seasons. The use of precast also greatly shortened the time needed for the open window of excavation.

Location: Mellette and Jones Counties, South Dakota
Date Completed: October 14, 2019
Project Owner: South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT)
Contractor: Zandstra Construction
Precast Supplier: Forterra
Designer: Forterra and SDDOT Engineer