BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison City Council approved an application for a grant for federal funds to potentially help fund constructing a roundabout at the intersection of Hwy. 61 and 53rd Street on the west end of Fort Madison.
At Tuesday’s meeting the council voted 7-0 to approve applying for the grant, but discussion focused on the cost benefit of a roundabout vs. the traditional four-way intersection.
Larry Driscoll, the city public works director, said a roundabout would cost roughly $850,000 to build, but upgrading the intersection with additional turning lanes and new traffic lights would cost roughly $1.2 million.
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Concerns from public meetings about future plans for Old Highway 61 and from councilman centered around the delays north and south bound at the intersection.
“Do you feel, in general, we would spend less to do this roundabout than all the other stuff we’ve talked about and still have a new intersection,” Councilman Chad Cangas asked.
“Correct, last year I came here with HRGreen and we gave a proposal for that intersection and it was $1.2 million for right turn lanes and new traffic lights,” Driscoll said.
“The roundabout, I feel, is just a good solution to eliminate the long-term traffic lights there.”
Councilman Bob Morawitz asked what the impact would be to semi-traffic and said he could see it slowing down traffic as they work through the roundabout.
Driscoll said it would be constructed with aprons on them that allow for the bigger turning radius needed for truck traffic.
City Manager David Varley said he’s been involved in the construction of about a dozen roundabouts and cited data that indicated they were a better way to handle intersections than traditional street lights where applicable. The City had discussed putting a roundabout at the Avenue H and 18th Street intersection a few years back.
“Just a quick reminder that data shows a decreased amount of time getting through the intersection about 82% and it also reduces the frequency of accidents at 73%. He said the accidents that do happen are less severe as traditional intersection accidents are usually t-bones,” he said. “They work. I can’t think of a single downside to them.”
Councilman Chris Greenwald said when the city first discussed the roundabout for 18th Street he didn’t like the idea, but after using the one recently constructed in Burlington, he’s now on board with them.
Cangas agreed that he didn’t like change, but the roundabouts he’s encountered, he likes.
The reconstructed intersection isn’t on the city’s schedule until 2023 and Driscoll said the city could amend the purpose of the grant at some point if they decided the rounadabout wasn’t the way to go.
In other action, the council:
• voted to appoint Varley to the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission effective Jan. 1, 2020.
• tabled a preliminary agreement with Viking Cruise lines to coordinate efforts to secure docking for the company’s future Mississippi River excursions with Fort Madison being a port of call.