Editor’s note: In an effort to address concerns and frequently asked questions raised by Perry-area residents about the planned redesign of the intersection of Willis Avenue and Iowa Highway 144 (First Avenue), Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson sat down with ThePerryNews.com and answered questions about the project. The intersection project begins Monday, April 4 and will take about two months to complete. People interested in learning more about Perry’s ongoing projects and sharing their ideas with city hall should read the Perry City Projects and Programs blog.
TPN: What is the purpose of this project to redesign the intersection of Willis and First avenues?
SP: This was a grant from the DOT specifically to address traffic safety, and all the money for the project is in the form of a grant from the DOT’s Traffic Safety Improvement Program. The whole $380,000 grant was centered around safety.
TPN: How will the redesigned intersection be safer than the present configuration? Some critics claim the change will actually make the intersection more dangerous.
SP: Those critics are incorrect. This project is about reducing the number of points of conflict. As it is now, somebody turning from First Avenue onto Willis has to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic. With this, they’ll only be crossing one lane of traffic. It’s the same for pedestrians, crossing four lanes of traffic versus crossing just two lanes, essentially, of traffic. People should also be aware that one of the big things with this project is all of the new signals, including the pedestrian push buttons and countdowns. With the Perry Public Library right there, I see a lot of kids crossing the street, so that’s definitely a concern. (See Phase 1 and Phase 2 maps below. –Ed.)
TPN: Will the new intersection improve the flow of traffic? Some critics claim it will actually increase congestion at the intersection.
SP: Once again, DOT data shows that those criticisms are unfounded. As far as congestion goes, the three-lane concept with a turning lane is proven to improve traffic flows and keep the traffic moving. How many times do you see somebody parked in one lane and trying to get across, with traffic backed up behind them? This way, all of the traffic trying to go through is in a specific lane, and all of the turning traffic is in a specific lane.
TPN: How much study and advance planning have been given to this project? Some critics claim the city is rushing into this project without giving it proper study and planning.
SP: It’s something that’s been studied by the DOT for quite a while. It’s not just some shot-in-the-dark kind of project. It’s been studied and thought through. The DOT a few years ago came in and did a study of this corridor, and they actually wanted to switch it over to three lanes then. They looked at all of the accidents at this intersection, including one that happened three or four years ago when there was a fatality with a pedestrian at this intersection. As a state highway, 144 is the DOT’s road and under the DOT’s control, so anything that we would want to do would have to be approved by the DOT. And ultimately it’s the DOT funding this project and doing the work so, yes, everything’s gone through the DOT and meets their specifications. (See Phase 1 and Phase 2 maps below. –Ed.)
TPN: Where is the money for this project coming from? Some critics claim the city would do better to use the taxes collected from its hard-working, law-abiding citizens to fix the potholes on the city’s side streets?
SP: Please remember that this summer we’re using the road use tax and local option sales tax to resurface about 55 blocks in our neighborhoods with asphalt, and that will be a really good project to improve the quality of those neighborhood streets. That’s to the tune of $850,000.
TPN: Will a raised-curb boulevard or median be built on Willis Avenue to the west of First Avenue, such as we see to the east of First Avenue?
SP: There are no boulevards going in. It’s all just painted hash marks on the asphalt. At this point, the three lanes on First Avenue are just going to be from halfway between Willis and Otley avenues up to Bateman Street. It is our hope that we can go for another Traffic Safety Improvement Program grant and take care of some issues at the intersection of First Avenue and Iowa Highway 141. With that, we would take the three-lane layout and continue it down
to 141. It gets a little bit different as you get farther up north. The road actually gets narrower, so we’d have to do some different things up at that point. (See Overall Lane Configuration map below. –Ed.)
TPN: Will First Avenue be closed during the two-phase construction period, or will only Willis Avenue be closed?
SP: The entire intersection will not be shut down. Iowa Highway 144 will remain open to traffic throughout the project but reduced to two lanes. There will just be a stop sign there on 144 for people to stop and go through. The only actual closure of 144 will be when they install the new traffic signals, and we asked that it be done at low driving hours, so probably 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., when there would not be a lot of traffic moving through there. So the intersection will be always open to north-south traffic on 144, but there will be closures and detours for the east-west traffic on Willis. There will be posted detour signs for each phase of the project. (See Phase 1 and Phase 2 maps below for suggested detour routes. –Ed.)
TPN: Are you doing all this just for the sake of making bike lanes for the bicyclists?
SP: No, nothing is changing with the bike trail. It’s still going to be routed in the same manner as before. The only change will be that now the bicyclists be crossing in a safer manner with the new pedestrian signals.
TPN: Any final thoughts you’d like to leave with the pedestrians and motorists of the Perry area?
SP: Traffic safety and pedestrian safety is a community issue. It’s one of a number of projects we’re doing to increase safety and improve the city’s infrastructure. This is a project that needed to be done so when this safety grant came up, it was a natural fit. Obviously, we can’t fix every issue at once, but this is going to be one that we can cross off the list. I encourage everyone to check out the city of Perry’s new Perry City Projects and Programs blog to learn more about our projects and share their ideas with us. People can always call us at 515-465-2481 if they want to learn more about the intersection project and other things in the works at the Perry City Hall.