Nevada City Council scraps DOT’s proposed plan

Marlys Barker

After nearly two hours of comments from the public, the Nevada City Council voted unanimously Monday evening to rescind its previous show of support for the Department of Transportation’s proposal that would close the Sixth Street intersection with Highway 30, close the intersection at S-14 and create an interchange at Airport Road. Instead, the council voted to support creating a task force that will attempt to work with the DOT on a new plan along the Highway 30 corridor at Nevada.

By doing so, council members took the responsibility off their shoulders and put it squarely on the public’s shoulders, just as the majority of residents at the meeting were asking them to do.

“Put it (the burden of this decision) back where the people want it,” said Nevada resident and business owner Larry Sloan of Nevada. “And the people have to take responsibility for the way it turns out.”

Councilman Brian Hanson stated that he felt that rescinding the previous proposal by the DOT was in some ways a gamble, in that the DOT doesn’t have to come back and work with the city. He had, earlier in the meeting, proposed that the city make a compromise of keeping the proposed plan, but taking the DOT up on an offer for several concessions to the plan: 1) a “right on, right off” allowable intersection at Sixth Street and Highway 30 and 2) putting in an additional street to connect Indian Ridge to the S-14, Sixth Street road.

But in the end, Hanson and other council members listened to the majority of those who had spoken at the meetings and took into consideration the 1,036 residents who signed a petition to keep Sixth Street open (presented to the mayor by Al Kockler at the start of the meeting).

“It’s a gamble, yes,” Hanson said. “It would be on all of us … all of us. If that’s what everyone wants to do, that’s a chance that we have to take,” he said.

Nevada resident Andrew Naumann said he thinks it’s a good gamble for the city of Nevada. “I don’t think your gamble is all that big. I really think the odds are in our favor,” said Naumann, who said that because of all the traffic and development going on along Highway 30, the DOT can’t afford to walk away from this area. He said he feels that the DOT, up to this point, has given the city a plan that he called, “the path of least resistance for (the DOT).”

Others agreed that they believe the DOT will work with Nevada. Charlie Good, who along with Al Kockler has been a very vocal advocate for keeping Sixth Street open at Highway 30, said a small group of Nevadans have been in contact with the U.S. Highway 30 Coalition members and, said Good, “they were shocked that we were even considering closing that intersection.”

“One of the commissioners came up to us,” Good said, “and said, we can always do something … a bad plan is not better than no plan at all.”

Good stated emphatically, “They (the DOT) are not going to walk away from this.”

Kockler was passionate about moving ahead with the task force to work on a better plan for Highway 30 at Nevada. “We the citizens were not up to snuff in 2012 (and when the plan was decided to find out what was happening) … but now that we know, you can see that we have come together.” Kockler said the reason residents didn’t raise a stink earlier, is that quite frankly, “we are a passive society,” he said. “But we haven’t been passive in the last month. You’ve got the signatures, you know what the citizens of Nevada want…”

While there was lots of celebration with a number of people giving a standing ovation after the vote to scrap the current project, there were also moments Monday where a few people spoke in the belief that the proposed plan did have some merits.

Former Nevada police chief and long time member of the local police force, Mark See, who lives in rural Nevada and works in the community, said he had seen and been involved in countless proposed designs and meetings to improve safety along Highway 30 through Nevada during his time working for the city. He also had been involved in responding to numerous accidents along the Highway 30 corridor through Nevada. He recalled a time when two semi-trucks, traveling side by side on the two lanes, didn’t give any room to responders at an accident and the people responding had to jump in the ditch for safety, because of the semis’ speed.

See noted that the proposed plan had its flaws, particularly in not addressing a better way to generate flow of people in and out of Nevada. He said railroad tracks and the creek have been some of the challenges in creating a plan for the area, and See wasn’t sure the risk of losing funding to improve some of the safety concerns along Highway 30 was worth voting to pull out of the project entirely. “What’s popular is not always right; and what’s right is not always popular,” he said. “There needs to be improvement along Highway 30.”

Laural Beaty said she felt See made some good points, and she said that she didn’t think closing access to Sixth Street at Highway 30 was going to kill the downtown, because people going by who aren’t looking to come into Nevada aren’t going to turn in there anyway.

“I’m not saying that closing Sixth Street is the best option,” Beaty said. “What I’m saying is that we need to think about safety...”

Before voting in favor of setting up a task force to revisit the project, Councilwoman Jane Heintz shared some of her feelings about Nevada and the Highway 30 project proposals. “I’ve been thinking about this for a long, long time, and it has caused me a lot of sleepless nights.” Heintz talked about her time of growing up in Nevada from the late ’50s on, and remembering the town that was once booming. “The things I’ve seen (that have affected Nevada’s livelihood),” she said, “haven’t been because of Highway 30 or access into town … it’s the mindset of people in town,” she said. Heintz said people these days think nothing of traveling to Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines or to the grocery stores in Ames to do their shopping.

“Whether or not we have Sixth Street open, I don’t think it’s going to change (the town), unless people change their mindset and decide that this is a place to shop,” Heintz said.

Furthermore, Heintz said the S-14 intersection scares her to death. “S-14 is a lousy intersection. That has been the whole driving thing for me. It’s been S-14 that has really bothered me. I don’t know what the answer is.” Heintz said if residents want to scrap it, they are going to shoulder the blame if somebody dies at that intersection. Heintz also noted that the current plan would still give access to the town, but would just be a different way of getting there.

Councilman Jim Walker agreed with Heintz’s concern about S-14. While Walker thought the council needed to vote down the plan that had been proposed, he also felt a letter should be sent to the DOT asking them to expedite a plan for improvements to the S-14 intersection.