BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – An official with the Iowa Department of Transportation says closing the Hwy. 61 crossing at the entrance to the Iowa Fertilizer Company is probably the safest thing to do, but the IFC must agree to all safety measures before IDOT will issue a permit.
Jim Armstrong, District Engineer with IDOT’s District 5 Highway Division, told the Lee County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s workshop ultimately the decision to close the crossover is in the hands of the state, but he said it would make sense for the Lee County Board of Supervisors to adopt an all-or-nothing approach with the fertilizer plant regarding additional traffic improvements.
The Iowa Fertilizer plant has sent notice to the county and state that they would like to have the crossover closed for safety purposes in helping trucks get off facility property and make the turn north as smoothly as possible. The move would eliminate access to the southbound lane.
Another IFC request is to build a 2,600-foot acceleration lane including a 900-foot taper at the end of the lane to merge onto Hwy 61 northbound. But Armstrong said improvements to 180th Street should also be made part of the agreement, all at the facility’s expense.
“We’ve been approached with that letter in March and then I received a letter in April requesting an immediate closure of the crossover. We’ve been meeting monthly, talking about safety issues, and the most recent two have focused on that crossover, as well as an improvement to 180th Street where it ended. We haven’t made a decision on this yet,” Armstrong said.
Fedler said now people are asking why the Rise Road or J50, was built if they were going to close the crossover.
“They said that was put in there for safety so trucks had access to the interstate. So now they’re asking ‘what did we build that for if they’re going to do this?’ It’s a pretty good question,” Fedler said.
Armstrong said at the beginning of discussions, the fertilizer company indicated most of their business would go south. So what’s changed in the discussions is that 70% is going to go north. Their operational expense and safety could be at risk due to that change,” Armstrong said.
“Now they said what I call the Rise Road (J50) will be used for 30% of business that is going south. What the IDOT is discussing is lawful. No one can stop this. So what is the right combination to address safety and business concerns and to me..this is an issue of all or nothing.
Armstrong said the county has complete jurisdiction over 180th Street, up to, and including vacating the property.
“You have complete jurisdiction over 180 and I don’t want to speak for you, but in my opinion it would be an all or nothing proposition.
Fedler also calculated that every load is 8.4 miles if they use J50 and that’s 300 or 400 trucks a day so it’s a cost-savings to them, but his interests are more of a safety concern than cost-savings.
He also said hauling nitrogen fertilizer could be devastating if there were to be an accident.
A conference call has been scheduled for Thursday between Armstrong and the fertilizer company to continue discussions on the matter, but Armstrong said he is not in favor of permitting the cost.
As part of the improvements to 180th Street at the Hwy 61 intersection, Armstrong said to help trucks get up to speed, the fertilizer plant may build a gradual turn into a yield, so additional property would need to be purchased for that and any other improvements to the roadway.
“From the inception of this Iowa fertilizer plant, the northbound traffic has always been 70 t0 80% and there were never concerns about the southbound, but they assured us of those numbers from the beginning,” said Supervisor Gary Folluo.
Armstrong said all three of the projects should be made part of any permitting agreements because the county could lose financially if they don’t.
“I’m concerned if we go first and do the median crossover, you’ll never see either of the other two done. I’m sure they’ll want the other two at someone else’s expense,” Armstrong said.
After the workshop, Armstrong reiterated that he wouldn’t favor permitting the crossover if the acceleration lane and 180th Street improvements weren’t a part of the agreement and at Iowa Fertilizer Company’s cost.
“I walked out today hearing overall, if it’s going to be done it’s going to be all three of those things that would have be agreed to,” he said. “It’s a commitment from the fertilizer plant financially, but also they have to agree to our terms in a permitting sense.”
Armstrong said IFC’s preliminary estimate on the improvements would be about $2.5 million.
After the meeting, Supervisor Don Hunold said all the information needs to be gathered and the county will need to sit down and go over it all again, because he heard some things he wasn’t aware of. However, he said closing is probably the safest route to take at this point.
“I think it’s probably best thing going forward, there’s going to be an accident there bigger than we’re standing here, and I hate saying that because I don’t want to see the crossover closed, but in all reality if we don’t close it that’s going to happen.”
Hunold said it was an eyeopener to him that J50, which connects to 180th street and runs south on the east side of the plant and eventually connects with Hwy 61, isn’t out of the flood plain, and that was the road originally planned to handle truck traffic in and out of the facility.
“Yes, that was the initial plan,” Hunold said. “And then they just said, and I didn’t realize it, that J50 isn’t out of the flood plain. “So, if we have a flood, the only way out is 180th Street and that’s a whole new ball game.”