A Fourth Public Hearing for the Northwest Oskaloosa Bypass Is Held

The Iowa Department of Transportation held two part hearing for the public on the night of Thursday, November 2. The open forum began activities at 6 PM where the public was welcomed to view copies of a map containing the proposed bypass specifications. This map was derived from the Environmental Assessment, which was conducted and later released to the public on August 15th, 2017.

The infancy stages of this proposed project date back to August 15, 2013. On April 16, 2014, a second meeting was held for the public to discuss the three conceptual alternatives for the U.S. 63 Northwest Oskaloosa Bypass. On December 16th of that same year, a public information meeting was set to discuss the four refined alternatives for the bypass and gather more public input.

“The purpose of the meeting is to bring up to date the community in the progress that we have made on this project. We have had three public hearings since the conception of this project,” said Hector Torres-Cacho, Iowa DOT District 5 Transportation Planner. “The purpose is to collect public input on Environmental Assessment and comments on preferred alignment.”

Jim Armstrong, the Iowa DOT District 5 Engineer, began the formal meeting by introducing the video which offered the history and background information on this project. During countless studies and assessments, “between 2010 and 2014, there were 171 crashes on U.S. 63 within the Oskaloosa corporate limits,” according to Torres-Cacho. Per the 100 million vehicle miles traveled, it is approximately 1.8 times the 5-year statewide crash rates.

Currently, all through traffic on U.S. 63 in the area must travel through the city of Oskaloosa and pass the busiest intersection at U.S. 63 and Iowa 92. The traffic volumes on U.S. 63 through oskaloosa range between 5,300 and 7,600 vehicles per day, up to 11-percent of that traffic is trucks or semis. On the existing U.S. 63, traffic volumes range from 3,500 to 4,500 vehicles per day having upwards of 16-percent truck or semi traffic.

It is projected that by 2040, the traffic volumes will increase to ranges of 5,200 to 8,800 – up to 13-percent semi traffic – and 4,200 to 6,700 – up to 20-percent semi traffic –  respectively. These projections are based off the existing roadway and structures in and around the Oskaloosa area.

During the public comment section, John Bandstra, an Oskaloosa resident, spoke about the intersection of Highway 63 and Iowa 92 in particular. “This intersection is well documented with accidents occurring and in some cases traffic signals and buildings have been damaged by turning traffic,” said Bandstra. “One can suggest that instead of trucks turning at this intersection that they use the 163/I-92 interchange and travel 92 through Oskaloosa.” Bandstra believes that the proposed improvements may benefit direct and safe access to U.S. 63 and Iowa 92 for local business as well as the industrial areas along Highway 23. Bandstra concluded his statement by announcing he is not in support.

Over the last three years, there has been a no build and seven proposed alternatives. According to Torres-Cacho, “alternative one was dismissed due to an impact of a pipeline valve field. Alternative two was dismissed due to the use of Kirby Avenue alignment because of too many access points to the bypass. Alternative two and five were dismissed because of environmental impacts such as river crossings and the miles of bridges required. Alternative three was dismissed due to the location being closer to the proposed airport and existing railroad, requiring more grading and earthwork. Alternative four was dismissed because of the impact of the pipeline valve field and six homes in the proposal.“

The proposed bypass would be around 4 miles in length connecting U.S 63 north of Oskaloosa west to Highway 163.

The preferred alternative includes an interchange at 235th Street and Highway 163. The interchange includes a bridge over 163 and access roads to Independence Avenue and North Shore Drive on the north side of the interchange. On the south side, Jewell Avenue and Old Highway 163 to 235th Street of the interchange.

The next step in the process, is to document a final decision in a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) document. Currently, this project is NOT included in the 2018-2022 Transportation Improvement Program. The cost of the project is estimated to be around the $35 million mark. According to Torres-Cacho, “combination of federal and state funding” will contribute to the cost of the project. “The locals also can, and more than likely will, be contributing too. Typically, through state and federal highway funding.”

From left to right: Tom Rielly, Oskaloosa; Mayor David Krutzfeldt, Oskaloosa; and Tom Walling, Councilman Oskaloosa, all spoke at the Iowa DOT public bypass meeting on Thursday, November 2nd.

As the presentation concluded, the time for open comments came. Three attendees spoke in favor of the northwest bypass including Mayor David Krutzfeldt, Beth Danowsky and Tom Walling.

“We [Oskaloosa] are town of about 12,000 people, that is slowly growing in population. We’re achieving growth by constantly working to make it a great place to live.” Krutzfeldt continued on to speak of one of the most pertinent issues facing Oskaloosa.

“My main concern is to fix the conflict of traffic with the enjoyment of life in town. As trucks come into town from the north, they come down a hill. Many use their engines to slow the truck, and there’s a noise factor to that. Once the truck slows down to speed limit, they climb a hill then go towards the William Penn campus. The highway runs between the campus and student housing with a signal crossing halfway up the hill. If the students are crossing , the truck needs to slow or stop. On the south side of that crosswalk, you can observe skid marks where northbound trucks have locked up their brakes in front of that crosswalk.”

But Krutzfeldt concerns do not end with the area near William Penn campus, but also in the downtown square where Highway 63 runs along the west side. “The square can be a serene reflective place, but that’s mostly at night when the traffic subsides.” Krutzfeldt mentions the additions of the summertime Thursday night concert by the city band and the renovated Alley due to the efforts of five determined women who are referred to as the Alley KADTS. “The Alley KADTS turned it from a littered passageway into a space that’s complete with seating, lighting, landscape, history and art. It was recognized by Main Street Iowa and Travel Federation of Iowa. With close proximity to the square, people are able to go back and forth to different events  if they can get across 63.” The Mayor requested that the Iowa DOT prioritize this project for the safety and concern of all of the residents in Oskaloosa.

Beth Danowsky works with local business and government representatives to advocate for transportation improvements in the area. The group Danowsky is associated with supports the bypass around Oskaloosa and “requests the important work continues on this project we request it be include as part of the next five-year plan.”

“I came tonight to speak in favor with two different hats on,” began Tom Walling, Oskaloosa City Councilman. “Our corporate office is located on South Market. We have watched the traffic grow and grow and grow and it just continues. What is going on down in Eddyville is amazing for the area but it’s causing a truck traffic problem. Noise and safety of our employees affect our business.”

Walling continued on the say that for roughly 25 blocks, Highway 63 runs through Oskaloosa. Three of those are past the city square which contains four stoplights. Walling noted that there are times where it takes forever to get through because of tractors or trucks. “And this is all nothing new, understand that. But I highly support to put it on the 5-year plan so we can move forward.”

Residents along the proposed area, specifically the interchange area, may see the negative effect of this bypass construction. Brenda Williams, a resident of the West Lake subdivision addressed the Iowa DOT staff and public in attendance. “In 2012, my late husband and I purchase lot five, our sole purpose of purchasing that particular lot was the close proximity to 163 we built our home that year.” Williams continued, “In 2013, we purchase lot number 6 to build a shop to match our home. The total spent on those lots were 35,000. And i can  guarantee you that I would not have bought these properties if they were on a gravel road. “

According to Williams, there is a proposed gravel frontage road that would be over a half-mile in length in front of her private drive to connect to the pavement.” All of the gravel roads in this area are so poorly maintained that I have seen car washes in town shut down because they do not want the mess that the rural customers leave behind.” This is a big concern of Williams as well as the toll it will take on her vehicles.

“The proposed gravel frontage road would decrease all of our property values, who would be reimbursing this to us? I am not opposed to change and I do actually see a benefit to the bypass,” stated Williams. “But I was told at the last meeting, and I quote, ‘we will put you back to how you were.’ Right now, I am a private drive onto pavement not private drive onto poorly maintained gravel onto pavement.”

Carl Drost had registered to share his comment, but declined as his opportunity passed.

Tom Rielly is an Oskaloosa resident but also a part of the Iowa DOT Commission. “Earlier this year Governor Branstad  appointed me to a seven member commission and we set the five-year road program.”

Reilly has some insight into this project and spoke about the struggles local companies are having such as Cargill, John Deere, Clow, Musco, Pella Corp and Vermeer. “For years, it’s been very hard for them to go north and east, but very easy for them to go north and west.” The Iowa DOT has been trying to find a way, regionally, where communities could work together to create a safe and efficient way to go north and east.

Community members look over the maps provided for the proposed alternative.

In all, roughly 50 people were in attendance to this public hearing for the northwest bypass. The Iowa DOT still wants to hear the public comments or concerns. Those wanting to voice their opinions and share with the Iowa DOT are asked to comment by December 4th.  If you prefer to submit your comments electronically, a link has been provided for you here.

You can also email your comments to the district planner at hector.torres-cacho@iowadot.us.

If you prefer to call in your comments, phone 800-766-4368.

Iowa DOT Facilities Readying Resources for Winter

It’s been sunny and relatively warm with temperatures comfortably sitting in the 60s this past week, but Iowa Department of Transportation employees are busy preparing for winter. Craig Bargfrede is the DOT’s winter operations administrator and he talks about the upcoming plow season for Iowa DOT staff.

“In our world, October 15th is actually the official start of the winter season and that runs through April 15th,” said Bargfrede.

The agency’s 900 plows and other snow-moving equipment are being brought out of storage for tuneups and maintenance.

“Making sure everything is functioning properly on the trucks, plows, blowers – we’re in the process of doing calibration on all of our spreaders to make sure the material is being dispensed properly and accurately across the board,” Bargfrede says.

Over the summer, the Iowa DOT stocked storage facilities with nearly 230-thousand tons of salt to use on roads this winter. Normally, however, the DOT only uses about half of that tonnage annually. Looks like the Iowa DOT is extra prepared for whatever weather this upcoming season has for us. 

Suspect Found, Two in Custody After Assault and Chase

On April 7, 2016 at approximately 10:40 am, Jasper County Sheriff’s Office Dispatchers received a 911 call from a male subject at a Reasnor residence. This subject reported that two subjects broke into the residence, assaulted him, and then took his vehicle.   The subject suffered minor injuries.

Jasper County Deputies and other law enforcement officers responded to the area. At approximately 10:52 am, a Jasper County Deputy located the two vehicles southeast of Newton. He confirmed that one of the vehicles was the stolen vehicle.  The second vehicle immediately fled the area.    The Deputy attempted to stop the stolen vehicle, which failed to stop.  The vehicle attempted to elude the deputy. Newton Police Officers were able to assist by placing stop stick devices in the roadway on S 13th Ave E during the pursuit.

The driver of the stolen vehicle did strike the stop sticks, deflating two tires.   The vehicle continued on S 13th Ave E in Newton. At the intersection of E 5th St S and S 13th Ave E, the deputy was able to initiate a pursuit intervention technique (PIT) and get the stolen vehicle stopped. The driver was taken into custody.   No one was injured during this incident.

The driver was identified as Kelsi Spears, age 23 of Kellogg, Iowa.   She was transported to Jasper County Jail.

The driver of the second vehicle has been identified as Elijah Utterback, age 37 of Ottumwa, Iowa.

On April 7th, 2016 at 2:30 pm, Elijah Utterback, age 37 of Ottumwa, was taken into custody in Northern Mahaska County.  Mahaska County Deputies located a vehicle he was operating.  Utterback fled on foot into a rural area near the North Skunk River.   This area was near Hwy 146 and on the Poweshiek/Mahaska County Line.  Law Enforcement officers from numerous agencies responded to assist.   A perimeter was established and several search teams checked the area.  A Jasper County Reserve Deputy and K-9 located Utterback hiding in a tree. He was taken into custody without incident.   Agencies assisting included Mahaska and Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Offices, Mahaska and Poweshiek County Emergency Management, Iowa State Patrol District 13 including an Iowa State Patrol Aircraft, and Mahaska County Conservation.

Utterback is charged with 1st Degree Burglary, 2nd Degree Theft, Driving with a Suspended License, and No Insurance. Spears is charged with 1st Degree Burglary, 2nd Degree Theft, Felony eluding, driving without a license, no insurance, no license plate, driving on the wrong side of the road, and failure to obey a stop sign.

Criminal charges are merely an allegation and both subjects should be considered innocent until proven guilty.


Stay updated, sign up for our newsletter.