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Accidents Mar Opening Of Interchange, Westbound 34

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

Four collisions at the intersection of 195th St. and Highway 34 within 40 hours of Thursday’s opening of the Highway 34 westbound overpass and redesigned Interstate 29 interchange in western Mills County left two people hospitalized with serious injuries and Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) officials taking extra measures to prevent future accidents.

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In all four accidents, the driver of a southbound vehicle on 195th St. failed to stop at the intersection and collided with a vehicle traveling westbound on Highway 34. Prior to Thursday afternoon’s opening of the interchange and westbound overpass, southbound motorists on 195th St. wanting to go either east or west on Highway 34 had to cross a construction zone on westbound lanes of the highway. Investigators believe the southbound drivers who failed to stop at the intersection didn’t realize westbound 34 is now open to traffic.

“No, we did not expect this,” IDOT construction engineer David Dorsett said. “I don’t think we anticipated this specific scenario where we had multiple accidents. Once you see this happening, it seems kind of logical that people aren’t used to stopping at this point, even though we’ve sufficiently designated where they have to stop now.”

On Friday afternoon, after three major accidents had occurred at the intersection, the IDOT installed portable rumble bars on southbound 195th St. and a flag on the stop sign at the intersection with Highway 34. After another accident Saturday morning, the Mills County Engineer’s Office requested permission to place a barrel-mounted stop sign on southbound 195th at the intersection with 34.

“There’s now two visible stop signs and a rumble strip and one of the signs has a flag to mark a changed condition from before,” Dorsett said. “I think that we have been responsive and we’ll continue to monitor the situation there.”

Mills County interim 911 communications center director Larry Hurst said motorists should use caution when driving through the area of the new interchange.

“Hopefully, this is not the preamble to what we’re looking forward to, especially in the winter time,” Hurst said.

A second area of concern with the opening of the interchange involves the southbound exit ramp off I-29. Motorists going eastbound on Highway 34 after exiting southbound I-29 are supposed to use the new cloverleaf loop south of the Highway 34 overpasses, but many drivers are continuing to use the westbound exit ramp and then making a left turn onto eastbound 34 after crossing the westbound lanes of the highway.

Dorsett said he was unaware of the situation on the exit ramp until asked about it by The Opinion-Tribune Monday morning. After the newspaper’s inquiry, Dorsett talked to IDOT personnel on site in Mills County and the determination was made that current signage on the exit ramp is ineffective.

“The problem is the signing contractor has not installed the permanent signing yet,” Dorsett said. “I did some investigation and it sounds like both placement-wise and size-wise, the signs there now are not effective. The sign contractor still has to construct footings, but he’s been directed to mount the new signs on the old posts temporarily. They’ll be visible and effective and then it might take him a couple weeks to get the fittings poured and the new posts erected. We will have effective signing in place by the end of the week.”

Dorsett said he didn’t know why the design of the interchange allows southbound-to-eastbound motorists to utilize the westbound ramp and then cross Highway 34, where traffic is no longer required to stop, but after questioning IDOT designers, he was told the interchange was drawn up with future traffic signals in mind.

“They said should development start to happen down there, the intersection as designed would be conducive for the installation of traffic signals,” Dorsett said.
Hurst said the intersection will be dangerous as long as motorists continue to use the westbound ramp to reach eastbound 34.

“They’ve got a mess on their hands,” Hurst said. “They’re going to have a problem there. They’re going to have to enhance their signage and get people getting off the interstate the right way or we’re going to have a bad accident at that old exit.”