The redesign of the intersection at First and Willis avenues in downtown Perry will begin next week, with local traffic rerouted in the ways shown in the map released Tuesday by the Perry City Hall.
City Administrator Sven Peterson said the redesigned intersection, which will be completed between April 4 and June 3, will improve safety both for vehicles and pedestrians.
“The plan includes all new traffic signals, the kind with pedestrian count downs,” Peterson said, “and this will greatly improve safety at this busy intersection.”
In the first phase, running April 4 to May 2, the westbound lanes of Willis Avenue will be closed between First Avenue and Second Street. Westbound traffic on Willis Avenue will be rerouted into the eastbound lanes at Second Street and then southerly on Railroad Street and past the Perry Public Library.
Access to businesses along the north side of Willis Avenue — RHC Insurance, the Hotel Pattee and the Raccoon River Valley Bicycle Co. — will be accommodated by opening railroad Street to business parking. The rear of the Hotel Pattee will serve as the drop-off point during the month-long first phase.
The second phase of the intersection redesign will run from May 2 to June 3. Willis Avenue will be closed between First Avenue and McColl Street, the short, diagonal street and former site of Stokely Lumber Co.
Bicycle traffic on the Raccoon River Valley Trail will be rerouted past the Perry Welcome Depot during phase-two construction.
New traffic signals are also part of the rebuild, and traffic on First Avenue (Iowa Highway 144) will be controlled at Willis Avenue by four-way stop signs during both phases of the project.
The $380,000 project, to be completely paid for with state-administered U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) money, will see First Avenue converted from four to three lanes between Otley Avenue and Bateman Street, with two opposing traffic lanes separated by a center turning lane.
Transportation planners sometimes refer to such conversions as a “road diet.” They are a relatively low-cost way to improve the safety of streets without reconstruction. Fewer lanes mean fewer conflict points, according to planners, and an isolated turning lane reduces weaving and promotes traffic flow.
Safety studies by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) show road diets can reduce overall crashes anywhere from 20 percent to nearly 50 percent, particularly among drivers under 35 years old and more than 65.
“Road diets can reduce the vehicle speed differential and vehicle interactions, which can reduce the number and severity of vehicle-to-vehicle crashes,” according to the FHA’s road diet informational guide.
Alternative transportation advocates also like road diets because they can incorporate friendlier conditions for bicyclists, pedestrians and public transit vehicles. Designated bike lanes and sidewalks are sometimes layered on the outside of the travel lanes.
The First-and-Willis plan also includes some storm sewer improvements and the construction of new curbs, making for safer turns by westbound semi-tractor trailers. The long-term plan is to convert the entire length of Iowa Highway 144 to three lanes, from the intersection of Iowa Highway 141 to the northern corporate limits of Perry.
“Ultimately, we’ll be looking at the intersection of 144 and 141 for safety improvements there,” said Matt Ferrier of Bolton and Menk, the city’s engineering consultants. Ferrier noted an Iowa State University study from 2008 that “showed the whole corridor should be run as a three lane and does operate more efficiently.”
The present plan for the Willis Avenue intersection will use funds from the Traffic Safety Improvement Program (TSIP). The larger project for the length of First Avenue will probably draw funding from the Iowa DOT’s Urban-State Traffic Engineering Program (U-STEP) and Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), Ferrier said.
In a second project for improving Perry’s streets, bids will be let in April on the Frog Creek bridge replacement project. The city hopes to time replacement of the bridge over Frog Creek on Willis Avenue, between W. Fourth and W. Fifth streets, to coincide with the intersection redesign in order to minimize the disruption to downtown traffic.
The Frog Creek bridge is no longer structurally sound enough to permit standard truck traffic without strict weight limits. The architect’s final design for the replacement bridge have been approved by the Iowa DOT, Ferrier said.
In September the Perry City Council approved a bid of about $380,000 from Decorah-based Voltmer Electric for the intersection redesign project. The engineer’s cost estimate for the Frog Creek bridge replacement is about $540,000.