No. 4 News Story: Navigating the Y

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Following multiple accidents at the North Y - the intersection of U.S. Highways 18 and 75 in north Spencer - road closures, speed limit changes and temporary crossing changes put in place for a construction project were deemed inadequate by local law enforcement and officials. The problems prompted the state to add extra precautionary measures to the area including additional caution signage, a greater reduction in the speed combined, and more stringent law enforcement presence and enforcement.

Local officials, DOT troubleshooting intersection

The situation at the "North Y" - the intersection of U.S. Highways 18 and 71 - on the north edge of Spencer has caused local law enforcement, city and county leaders and state Department of Transportation officials to take notice.

Three accidents in one week involving multiple injuries and one fatality have local entities searching for ways to create a safer traveling experience at the intersection, which is currently restricted as part of a long-term state road construction project stretching from north Spencer to the Milford city limits.

"We're going to have to deal with this until October," Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow said. "We have the whole summer to go, plus the Clay County Fair."

The portion of roadway in question is under the jurisdiction of Clay County and the state of Iowa, according to Krukow, who is in Nashville, Tenn. this week, participating in the national sheriff's association annual meeting.

He is well aware of the problems that exist at the intersection.

"The problem is two-fold. One, of course, is people keeping their speed down. The other issue is visibility," Krukow said. "Sometimes I think a third issue is perhaps confusion. People aren't used to two-way traffic there. People who are familiar with the intersection are used to looking one way at times.

"We're all human, we all make mistakes."

Krukow was joined by Spencer Police Chief Mark Lawson, Lt. Darin Fratzke, with the Iowa State Patrol, and representatives from the Iowa Department of Transportation on Monday, June 11, to look at options to create a safer traveling environment. In addition to the three accidents at the North Y, three additional accidents have occurred - including another fatality - within a six-mile stretch, reaching to the intersection at Fostoria, which is still part of the construction zone.

Another meeting took place late Monday between Spencer City Manager Bob Fagen, Lawson and other representatives reviewing the issues and potential solutions at the site.

Lawson shared some of the details with members of the Spencer City Council at its Monday night meeting.

"Everybody here, myself, the sheriff, (Iowa State Patrol) Post 6 and the DOT (Iowa Department of Transportation), we've just been inundated with phone calls (saying), 'What are you guys going to do with this?'" Lawson said. "First of all, the city can't do anything."

With that said, Lawson explained that he, along with other law enforcement officials, met with DOT representatives at the troublesome intersection Wednesday, and will meet again this week.

"I went up there with a request for four things and we got three of them," Lawson said. "We wanted speed trailers, we wanted electronic billboards, we wanted more signage and we wanted the speed limit dropped (to 45 mph). The speed limit did not get dropped, but I have a feeling that's probably going to come."

Krukow has explained the speed limit has been dropped from 65 mph to 55, but lowering it any further for the entire stretch of highway would create problems with state and federal guidelines.

However, Lawson believes a request to lower the speed limit starting at city limits or north of the intersection, near Morton Building, has a better chance of being approved.

The sheriff indicated that drivers should expect increased enforcement in the area, as the entities involved will be seeking funding assistance to aid the sheriff's office, Spencer Police and Iowa State Patrol to spend more time in the area. Krukow said aerial patrol may also become an option.

"We're going to keep it pretty tight when it comes to this area. Instead of giving drivers a 5 mph allowance, we might start writing tickets at 3 mph over," Krukow explained.

Lawson added Monday evening that, because of space restrictions, area law enforcement will work together so one officer can call in speeding violations to other officers, who will stop them in a safer stretch of four-lane roadway.

Krukow is hopeful that the placement of digital speed signs, as well as an increased law enforcement presence, will help remind drivers to slow down and pay attention to the travel restrictions in the area.

"It's not about how many tickets we can write. It's about safety. It's about avoiding any more problems," the sheriff concluded.

Even with extra precautions, Lawson said each driver needs to make an effort to make the intersection, and the entire construction zone, safer.

"It still boils down to driver error and following the rules," Lawson said. "Do everyone a favor by going the speed limit."

On a related matter, Lawson and Spencer Public Works Director Mark White clarified that, to this point, lane restrictions have been needed in order to safely survey the highway before construction, which is now getting underway.

Lawson reiterated that safety remains at the heart of the matter.

"We just want to make sure people get from point A to point B safely," he said.

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