LETTS, Iowa — Updated plans from the Iowa Department of Transportation for a four-lane U.S. 61 in Louisa County answer some concerns, but leave others hanging.
When DOT officials presented plans at a Dec. 8, 2011, public meeting, questions arose about access, use of farmland and safety.
Modifications were made, and DOT officials met again with the public at an information meeting Thursday at Louisa-Muscatine Junior/Senior High School, to discuss plans and answer questions.
Although some questions were answered and some concerns addressed, not everyone was convinced the new proposal is the perfect plan.
The project would convert U.S. 61 to a four-lane highway from a point two miles south of Iowa 92, just north of 130th Street, northward to the existing four-lane road south of the Louisa-Muscatine county line.
Construction is expected to take four years, with the highway opening as early as fall 2017. The project’s current price tag is $29.7 million.
Concerns raised by residents included the number of access points to neighboring land and the meandering right-of-way would have taken a considerable amount of farm ground.
Much of current U.S. 61 would become frontage roads and other portions would be closed.
The modified plans add an at-grade intersection at 145th Street south of the proposed U.S. 61/Iowa 92 interchange, relocating a portion of 145th farther south so it isn’t too close to the diamond intersection. Farm field access points are also added between 130th and 145th streets so farmers would not have to drive equipment as far to reach fields.
Access for farmers also remains an issue, and safety is a major concern — both for people who will drive along the new road and people who live nearby.
An often-heard criticism has been the lack of at-grade intersections, unlike the four-lane stretch of U.S. 61 between Muscatine and Blue Grass, which has several such intersections.
Jason Huddle, a DOT transportation planner, says at-grade intersections are minimal in the proposal to enhance vehicle safety. “We’re trying to limit spacing (of intersections) as best we can to reduce the conflict points,” he says.
Area residents say they appreciate safety, but they also want access.
David Bieri, who farms near the proposed Louisa-Muscatine diamond interchange, is a former L-M School Board member. “It’s got to be safer,” he says. “And if it saves a life, who can put a price on that?”
Bieri doesn’t agree with the amount of farmland that would be consumed.
“They’re going to take 80 acres from us, some of the very best farmland,” he said. “There are fields a little farther away that aren’t as good. It would be better to take that land out of production and off the tax rolls.”