OTTUMWA — The Cardinal Community School District is looking to build a southbound turn lane into the elementary school as part of a long-term project to alleviate traffic on Highway 16 around the premises.
Superintendent Joel Pedersen and Wapello County Deputy Sheriff Chris Shadduck addressed the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, detailing the challenges the district has had this year with traffic backups around the school.
The southbound right-turn lane would cost an estimated $320,000 through Snyder & Associates, but it would be partially paid for by a grant the school district will seek, as well as money from the district itself through fund-raising, etc. Longer-term, the district hopes to install a northbound turn lane.
"We've had an increase in traffic to the elementary, and bus ridership is down (because of COVID-19)," Shadduck, who serves as the school's resource officer, told the board. "The Y has suspended its busing program and there has been an increase in open enrollment at Cardinal."
Shadduck, who guides traffic into the school, said there were backups a quarter-mile in each direction on the highway the first three days of school, and there was a personal injury when a vehicle rear-ended another.
"There has been a gravel road north of the concrete driveway into the school that we've used, but the Iowa DOT denied us a permit to use a farm-access road as a temporary driveway," Shadduck said. "After the accident, that decision was reversed, and it was approved as a temporary fix. We're getting a lot of traffic from Ottumwa."
As part of the agreement with the DOT to gravel the farm-access road, the district had to use speed trailers and message boards in both directions to remind drivers to slow down. Those were taken away by the DOT Monday for another project, Shadduck said, so the district has returned to flashing yellow lights at 7:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.
The proposed turn lane, according to Pedersen, would lead into the gravel driveway from Highway 16, up a hill and into a parking lot which the district hopes to expand in time after it purchased adjacent land.
Supervisor Wayne Huit said the safety hazard is on a state highway, and wondered why the county or the school had to pay for the turn lane.
"It probably doesn't rank as a high enough safety priority for the DOT," said Chris Kukla, the Area 15 transportation director. "The DOT has programs that a local entity can apply for money. The county can apply for up to $200,000 for the project and get up to 55 percent toward it. We'd have to come up with a 45 percent match."
Huit said the school shouldn't have to pay for it, that the state should take care of it.
"My impression is that their belief is that it's treated similar to a business to make it safe," Shadduck said. "So, because of the increased traffic with students, staff and parents, it's Cardinal's responsibility to ensure what they need."
Pedersen said they'd probably look at a July 2021 project, though the district has an extension in place on the temporary gravel road until September of next year.
Supervisor Jerry Parker said the county likes to be the last one in when it comes to funding, but indicated the board wasn't opposed to it.
"Just because we don't say today an amount, I don't think you should interpret that we won't," he told Pedersen. "I think you can be assured that because it's safety, and that we've been willing to assist before. We just have to have a lot of information so we don't make mistakes of the past."
"If I was in your chair, I wouldn't say an amount today either," Pedersen said. "The good news is the timeline on this. We have some time to look at our budget and do some other funding, and know that you guys will be here to listen again."
In other business from the meeting:
• The board approved construction plans on the North Avery Creek bridge that is on BNSF right of way on 225th Avenue in western Wapello County. Construction on the bridge could begin during next summer's construction season, county engineer Jeff Skalberg said. He anticipated a let date of January. With a weight limit of three tons, farm equipment can't legally use the bridge during harvest season. Once construction begins, the seven-mile detour would be from the intersection of 225th Avenue and 136th Street, west from 136th Street to Monroe-Wapello Road, north along Monroe-Wapello Road to 225th Avenue, then east to 225th Avenue along County Road H21.
• The board approved a $203,500 bid from Elite Fire Sprinkler Systems and will send the recommendation to A&J Associates for work on the courthouse sprinkler system.
• The board approved a $6,800 contract with Carnes Painting and Staining to repaint and repair the exterior and add a handicap ramp to the old Dahlonega School, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.