The Lee County Board will consider adding some new traffic signs around the Iowa Fertilizer Company plant near Wever. But the board is not willing to go any farther to address the company’s concerns about traffic safety.
Plant Manager Darrell Allman addressed the board for about ten minutes Tuesday morning. He says more than 200 large trucks are entering/exiting the plant each day and that number could increase to 300+ per day by October.
Allman said that is creating safety issues along 180th Street, which is a road that runs alongside the plant.
“The safety of our employees and contractors when they are working at our plant is of our utmost and top priority,” said Allman. “And that goes well with the surrounding community and everything around there. Safety of all of the citizens is important to everyone.”
Allman said truck drivers are encouraged to turn right when leaving the plant so they can use a brand new road to connect to Highway 61 via standard on/off ramps. He said that’s happening most of the time.
Allman said there are a few drivers who turn left out of the plant and use the narrow 180th Street to access Highway 61. They then have to try to get up to speed quickly because the 180th Street intersection is at the bottom of a steep hill and has no on/off ramps.
“When those trucks and that product leaves our gate, and sometimes even before it leaves our gate, that is not our product,” said Allman. “They are not our trucks and we have no ability to control public traffic on public roadways. That’s not within our jurisdiction.”
Allman proposed a short-term solution: add No Left Turn signs at various spots outside the plant that would be enforceable by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
The County Board seemed to support the idea. Vice Chairman Don Hunold said he believes the signs would help, especially for truck drivers who are not familiar with the layout of the plant.
“I think the fertilizer plant signs is a great idea because we are going to have a lot of people who don’t know us down here,” said Hunold. “I think that’s a perfectly good idea. Now we have to make sure we follow the rules and then we need to meet again in a year and talk about it and see what we think.”
Hunold said the county engineer is expected to present options for the additional signs and their possible locations as soon as possible.
The short-term solution of new signs was not Iowa Fertilizer Company’s original plan for addressing traffic around the plant.
It would like to see 180th Street widened and rebuilt with concrete, the addition of an acceleration along northbound Highway 61 off 180th Street, and the closing of a crossover along Highway 61 at the 180th Street intersection.
The long-term proposal has been presented to the Iowa Department of Transportation. However, it does not have the support of the county board or nearby residents.
The county board has said blocking the 180th Street crossover for Highway 61 would harm local residents and farmers who have land in that area. About a half-dozen people who live near Wever or the plant echoed those thoughts Tuesday morning during the county board meeting.
Green Bay Township Trustee and 25-year Wever Fire Department Veteran J.D. Henshaw said that crossover is important to members of the community. He said he did not believe it would solve the problem of traffic accidents near the plant.
“I can safely tell you this is a terrible idea,” said Henshaw. “During the construction time is really the only time we had major accidents at that corner and it was almost always the construction people.”
At its peak, IFC had several thousand construction workers on the job at its plant.
The county board wrote a letter to the DOT, this summer, asking the agency to delay any major changes to traffic patterns around the plant for at least one year.
IFC has indicated it would like to continue discussions between itself, the county and the DOT regarding its plans for traffic control around the plant.