Landowners Give Mount Vernon-Lisbon Bypass a Chilly Reception
By Dave DeWitte, Reporter
LISBON, Iowa - The long-awaited million Highway 30 Mount Vernon-Lisbon Bypass, finally back on the front burner of state projects, had a cold reception at its public unveiling Tuesday.
The Iowa Department of Transportation presented its preferred alternative for the six-mile-long project looping south around the neighboring cities. It differs greatly from the first bypass proposal adopted by the DOT in the late 1980.
Now, the four-lane bypass costs just shy of $100 million. It will create new interchanges at Highway 1 in Mount Vernon and between Green Ridge Road and Adams Avenue east of Lisbon. It also relocates Adams Avenue to the west of its existing alignment, and closes the existing Adams at the bypass.
While the alignment has largely been cleared with Mount Vernon and Lisbon city officials, certain property owners affected were just getting the full impression. At least seven of them voiced concerns, ranging from the proximity to an old U.S. Nameplate hazardous waste site on the Mount Vernon side, to blockage of existing farmland access.
"Can we afford to do it, and is it really worth the expense to all the people so that some people can go to Cedar Rapids a little faster?" asked John Henik, a Mount Vernon farm owner. He voiced concerns about the farmland the project will take out of production — about 426 acres, according to the project Environmental Impact Assessment.
Farmer Ken Neal, who will have to go about 1.25 miles further to farm property disconnected by the bypass southwest of Mount Vernon, was bitter that the DOT refuses to honor the access it guaranteed in a previous sale agreement in 1994 that was never consummated.
"Apparently, the State of Iowa and the DOT can do whatever it wants," said Neal. He said one of the reasons the DOT gave him for denying a direct entrance for his farm equipment was that he might decide to develop the land, even though it's been in his family since 1881 and he has every intention to farm it for the rest of his life.
DOT officials responded that the old agreement is no longer valid because the current project is entirely different, and will have different land requirements. They don't dispute Neal's claim that he won't develop the land, but that others might if he no longer owns it.
The project is expected to disrupt 12,160 linear feet of streams, 9.7 acres of wetlands and 82.6 acres of woodlands.
The environmental assessment said the project will intrude on 61 acres of habitat of the tiny Indiana bat, which is on the endangered species list.
The project does not intrude on the U.S. Nameplate hazardous waste site, the document said, although it's likely to cross a plume of groundwater contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks at a convenience store just west of the Highway 1/Highway 30 intersection.
Safety is one of the main reasons to pursue the project as traffic on Highway 30 mounts, according to Catherine Cutler, DOT District 6 transportation planner.
At least 158 accidents were reported on the stretch of Highway 30 from 2005 through 2009, the greatest concentration of them at the busy Highway 1/Highway 30 intersection
Highway 30 was last relocated through Mount Vernon and Lisbon in 1953, when a new 24-foot paved surface was built at its current location. Since that time, a stretch of Highway 30 from 1.2 miles west of Mount Vernon to Highway 13 has been upgraded to a four-lane.
The DOT has allocated about $6 million per year in right of way acquisition in 2014, 2015, and 2016 in its five-year highway plan, along with $31 million for grading and wetland mitigation in 2017.
Many residents along the route have been living with the possibility of the project for years.
"We have been living with this a long time," said Diane Roush of 785 Windy Ridge Road, Lisbon. She said the bypass was on the table when she and husband Michael bought their 20-acre farm in 1993, then was removed and resurrected.
Now, Roush and her husband Michael just want to know what land the DOT wants. While she's learned a bit about the DOT's formula for appraising farmland for acquisition she said "it's worth more to me," because the family needs all its land to grow crops to feed its cattle.
Comments on the project may be submitted up to Nov. 12. They can be addressed to Public Involvement Section, Office of Location and Environment, DOT, 800 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50010-9902.
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