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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you prefer to call in your comments, phone 800-766-4368.