WAPELLO — The Louisa County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to host a meeting next week to develop a joint communication plan with local officials and organizations regarding the recently unveiled plans for a U.S. 61 bypass of Wapello.
During a May 8 public hearing on those plans, several concerns were outlined over the preliminary design presented by the Iowa Department of Transportation. The concerns centered on Wapello’s proposed single access to the bypass off County Road G62 and the effect that could have on emergency responses and other issues.
Officials have pointed out if there is an accident that closes the interchange off, emergency and rescue units would need to travel over gravel roads to 40th Street to reach any emergencies south of town. That would likely add several minutes to the response time.
If the northbound interchange was affected, emergency units would be forced to use the Louisa County 99 bridge and then gravel roads to reach Louisa County G-56. That would also create a much longer response time.
Louisa County Engineer Larry Roehl and Assistant County Engineer Adam Shutt told supervisors during their regular meeting Tuesday they and others had additional concerns about the plans and wanted to submit formal comments before the June 8 deadline.
Shutt said DOT officials had indicated to him a single communication from all the affected stakeholders of the project would likely carry a stronger message to DOT planners and engineers.
Shutt said there were three main issues the county wanted to address. He said the county wanted the DOT to reconsider its decisions not to connect the existing U.S. 61 with the new alignment south of Wapello and the intersections of K Avenue and 142nd Avenue.
“We need to do something better,” Shutt said, explaining truck traffic, vehicle counts and other issues all needed to be investigated.
“All of that needs to be looked at better than it has,” he continued, adding that the 70th Street overpass could also be redesigned.
The DOT is currently proposing to construct the new lanes over the rural gravel road, but Shutt suggested keeping the new alignment at grade level and constructing an overpass for 70th Street.
The supervisors agreed, especially with the criticism of providing only one access to the new U.S. 61 for Wapello.
“It surprises me the DOT thinks a town this size only needs one access,” board chairman Randy Griffin said.
Supervisor Chris Ball, who farms south of Wapello, agreed, but said the DOT’s design reflected its apparent mindset to reduce at-grade intersections throughout the county, often at the expense of farmers who have been denied access to fields that have been split by the new alignment.
He offered a tongue-in-cheek solution.
“Are we going to have to cede half our county to Illinois because of this damn road?” he asked, pointing out there would only be six or seven access intersections in the entire county once the entire realignment is eventually completed.
Griffin said DOT officials had previously told him the reduction of at-grade intersections reflected the current design standards for realignments because they were stressing safety.
However, he suggested that strong of an emphasis belonged more on an interstate highway.
“They have to listen to us, this is our community and our people,” he said.