Rural Residents Grateful for Stop Signs at Problem Intersection, But Still Want More

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

LINN COUNTY, Iowa- A significant change has taken place since a second person lost their life at a rural intersection in northern Linn County last week.

Nicholas Aberle, 20, of Troy Mills died October 2nd when his vehicle was struck at the intersection of Hills Mill Road and Upper Boulder Road. It was the second deadly crash at that lightly-traveled corner in 15 months. Last Monday, Linn County Supervisors agreed to install a four-way stop at the intersection and county workers put up the signs less than 24 hours later.

But neighbors say while they're grateful for that safety change, they want more than one set of stop signs. They'd like to see the county put up either stop or yield signs at every uncontrolled intersection. And that's what they plan to push for next.

Ben Holub was back harvesting soybeans on Thursday. But Tuesday morning, when he saw county workers putting up those stop signs near his home, he had a very emotional reaction.

"I just stopped. I had to put on my emergency lights and I walked over and I shook the workers hands and they looked at me kind of funny. But I was elated," Holub said.

Holub said he explained to the county workers that his wife Margaret was the first to die at that intersection in July of 2012. And Holub was one of the organizers who rallied neighbors to approach supervisors about changes after the second death last week. Neighbors won a quick victory in getting stop signs at Upper Boulder Road and Hills Mill Road. But the greater battle is still to come. Supervisors also directed the county engineer to investigate whether control signs should be used at every rural road crossing.

Holub said neighbors know the wheels of government turn slowly so they'll be patient—but only up to a point.

"I'm sure it does take time and we're willing to wait," he said adding "but not too long."

Holub and the other neighbors have gathered a total of 450 petition signatures asking supervisors to consider control signs at every gravel intersection. Some counties, like Dubuque and Delaware, already do that on rural roads. Many more nearby counties are like Linn—where the rule is yield the right of way to oncoming traffic.

Holub and the neighbors know one argument will be cost. They're prepared with statistics showing a yield or stop sign, purchased from Iowa Prison Industries in Anamosa, sells for less than $100 each.

But Linn County Engineer Steve Gannon said just the signs themselves aren't the biggest part of the cost. He said determining where to install control signs and in which direction is an engineering and safety issue and those hidden costs add up. He'll tell supervisors it would probably cost $1,000 to $2,000 per intersection to install control signs.

"Whether you use yield signs, stop signs or any combination it all has to be determined and it takes time. And that time comes with a cost," Gannon said.

At one time, Gannon estimated that Linn County might have up to 400 uncontrolled intersections on gravel roads. But he now says if you exclude T-intersections and other roads that have no obvious safety issues, then you're probably talking about a hundred rural crossings.

Linn County Supervisor John Harris said when the study about controlling every intersection comes back, he doesn't plan to make cost his first concern.

"For me, cost doesn't come into the equation if we have a job to be done and safety to be accomplished. We'll do what we have to do," Harris said.

Harris also said supervisors didn't give the county engineer a deadline to finish looking at the question of whether to add many more stop and yield signs at rural intersections. But they do want to start that discussion in the very near future.
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