J-Turn Plan in Benton County Beginning to Draw Opposition

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Dave Franzman

BENTON COUNTY, Iowa - Motorists in Benton County may someday need to learn how to navigate a J-turn to handle traffic at the intersection of Highways 30 and Highway 218. But while that traffic control feature is still in a future design, it’s beginning to draw some serious opposition, much as a recent proposal did at Springville in Linn County.

The intersection changes under consideration by the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) are part of future plans to extend the four-lane portion of Highway 30 west from where it ends in Benton County to Tama County. The current four lane portion of Highway 30 ends just a few hundred yards west of the intersection of Highways 30 and 218.

During an August open house, the DOT showed residents who attended the J-turn concept. One planner says there wasn’t much opposition and those attending seemed to prefer it to a cloverleaf intersection that would have required more land. But opponents have taken notice and are beginning to raise concerns.

Right now, drivers wanting to head east from Highway 218 onto Highway 30 need to cross two lanes, wait until it’s clear, and then accelerate quickly to merge with traffic. But with a J-turn, traffic at that intersection couldn’t go straight. Rather it would require a short detour in the opposite direction to enter a designated lane, and then make what amounts to a U-turn to go in the direction intended.

Mike Kelly, a member of the Lincoln Highway Association, said he personally didn’t know about the J-turn proposal until a few days ago.

“I don’t think a lot of people realized what it was going to be. Maybe the media didn’t cover it as well (as Springville) or there wasn’t as much interest,” Kelly said.

But Kelly and others say there is interest in the concept now and opponents will take their cues from residents in Springville who permanently derailed a DOT J-turn proposal there.

On Tuesday, Benton County Supervisors voted to draft a resolution opposing the J-turn concept. They plan to sign the resolution and send it to the DOT next week. They also want the public to begin contacting the DOT office in Cedar Rapids to express concerns.

Supervisor Terry Hertle agreed much wasn’t said at the DOT open house last August. But he believes that’s because people didn’t realize what the DOT was talking about.

“I don’t think they realized this was coming and they just weren’t paying attention,” Hertle said.

Along with a letter of opposition, Benton County Supervisors will tell the DOT they’d prefer an extra acceleration lane, wider medians and a lower speed limit in that area as a way to make the intersection safer.

Hertle said supervisors have recently begun hearing from both farmers and truckers. There is concern large equipment won’t be able to easily navigate the J-turn to get onto Highway 30 from Highway 218.

Cathy Cutler, a spokesperson for the DOT District 6 office, said bordering states of Missouri and Minnesota both have J-turns on four lane highways and both are planning to construct more. She said DOT engineers believe it is a safer solution for dangerous intersections. But she acknowledges planners are having a hard time convincing Iowa drivers.

“They have very obvious proven safety improvements especially on the four lane intersections. But we just haven’t had any luck convincing anyone a J-turn is a solution,” Cutler said.

Cutler said to her knowledge, there are no J-turns anywhere else in Iowa. Benton County Supervisors said another reason for approving a resolution in opposition was the fear the DOT was trying to experiment with their intersection.

While the J-turn at Highways 30 and 218 is still in the plans for now, actual grading work isn’t set to begin until 2017. So Benton County officials say there is still time for residents to make wishes known and impact the final design.

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