BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEVER – Conversations between the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Iowa Fertilizer Company continued Thursday regarding the possible closure of the crossover at Hwy 61 and 180th Street.
Jim Armstrong, District 5 Engineer with IDOT, and IFC officials held a conference call Thursday to discuss possibilities surrounding the closure of the median crossover. Armstrong has gone on record as saying he wouldn’t be in favor of issuing a permit to close the median crossover if IFC doesn’t address other safety considerations associated with 180th Street and an acceleration lane.
The county and IDOT are recommending the closure and the acceleration lane to keep a safe transition of truck traffic in and out of the facility, but improvements to 180th Street must also be a part of the discussions.
“IFC officials, the Lee County Engineer (Ernie Steffensmeier), and myself talked about those requirements. Our discussion led to all three of those things, if the IFC is willing to pay for those improvements and agree to county and IDOT requirements,” Armstrong said.
“It just boils down to all or none. If they are willing to do it, I told them I would get people together and draft that agreement.”
Lee County Supervisor Gary Folluo said he doesn’t believe that all the issues have been discussed thoroughly yet.
“I’m sure there are issues that haven’t surfaced yet. I have received 4 calls objecting to closing the median and a handful of personal contacts,” he said.
But he said he believes 180th Street needs to be widened with additional rights of way purchased. At last week’s board of supervisors meeting Folluo indicated he wouldn’t be in favor of the county exercising domain over the property to get the work done.
“Any improvements will have to be at no cost to the county and I would want 180th Street to stay open to the public,” Folluo said. “It would have to be widened with additional rights of way purchased and if additional property was needed, I think they (IFC) should negotiate with the property owners.”
There was also discussion last week about the RISE Road (J50) being in the flood plain and that not making good sense. Folluo said it would have added more cost to the project than anyone wanted to pay and IFC made sure the plant was out of the flood plain to pacify the underwriters for insurance.”
“Additionally, I believe we need to have more discussion because there are safety issues with the amount of truck traffic, even if the median is not closed and an acceleration lane is not built. Even if all traffic goes on the Rise road, 300 to 400 trucks daily, or at least 75% going north, is going to be dangerous at the bottom of that hill, with the public and company using 180th,” he said.
Armstrong said the process is now left in the hands of IFC to discuss internally and from there schedule the next conversation with state and county officials, but they didn’t indicate on Thursday’s call when that next conversation would take place.
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.
The other 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.