Some members of the Iowa Transportation Commission questioned the need to build an interchange at a central Iowa intersection that has a deadly past during their meeting Tuesday.
The intersection of Highway 330 with U.S. 65, Iowa 117 and County road F-17 in Jasper County saw nine people killed between 2003 and 2011.
Turning lanes were added to a portion of the highway and there have been no fatalities there the last three years, which prompted commission member John Putney of Gladbrook to ask about the need for the interchange.
“I don’t understand why we don’t let that work before proceeding with a very costly major project when we have so many other things in Iowa that we need to be addressing,” Putney asked. The interchange would cost $14.5 million.
DOT engineer Scott Dockstader says the studies have shown the interchange is the best long-term solution. “The left-turn lanes, offset left-turn lanes were a nice improvement and good improvement in the intersection. I don’t think that that is going to dictate that we won’t have severe accidents into the future. I don’t think just that one improvement is going to say that over the next three years we won’t have any,” Dockstader says “Because of the constraints that we have, the accidents that we are gonna have, are going to be severe accidents.”
Dockstader showed commission members recent video from cameras at the intersection that showed accidents at times when traffic was not heavy. He says while those accidents were not serious, that could have changed if the vehicles had moved a short distance. The interchange would also take 50 acres of farmland, which was part of the discussion.
Commissioner Amy Reasnor of Cedar Rapids says they can’t forget the impact on people when making decisions on the project. “This is a very hard discussion to have, because you know when we are talking about fatalities we are talking about people — real people who are killed in these accidents. And we have had some very moving commentary at our public input meetings from folks who have been emergency responders to those scenes or folks who have been impacted by those accidents,” Reasnor says. She says they need to take into account the impact of other accidents where people were injured.
Commissioner Leonard Boswell of Davis City says they may want to hold off on the interchange given the results of the last three years. “I don’t think anybody in this room is any more concerned about the pain you go through when you loose someone in an unnecessary accident, because I’ve been there and probably you have too,” Boswell says. “But I think it’s a valid question if these improvements in the last three years have resulted in this, maybe we should pause.”
DOT director, Paul Trombino, says the information shows the turn lanes and other measures taken there aren’t going to completely solve the problem.”But if we also see the severity of crashes continuing and not being to address that, we are only setting the state that likely there will be more and that’s why we are trying — we feel in the end — address this issue long-term,” Trombino says.
The interchange is in the Department of Tranportation’s five-year plan for construction in 2017 and 2018. “It is in the program, it is funded, so from my perspective the project is really moving forward,” Trombino explains. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t change that decision…the role of the commission is to fund projects and as we get into the program cycle, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make that change.”
He says five years of discussions about several options have led to the interchange as the best alternative. “I think based on the input that we’ve received from the public, there is a desire to have an interchange to rectify these issues. Because they see the safety issues. They live right there, whether it be schools or other things, there are a lot of things that access into the system. So, what we’ve brought forward based on what we have in the program, is an interchange to rectify that issue,” according to Trombino.
Trombino says the expansion of Highway 330 to four lanes created the issue because of the high speeds people drive on the expanded highway. He says it’s an issue for other roadways that have expanded to four lanes and they are also looking at those, but this intersection is at the top of the list. “This is one of the worst that we have,” Trombino says. The interchange was a discussion item only during the Tuesday meeting, and the commissioners took no action.