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Charles City Council discusses ways to tweak problems with speed limits, parking

Charles City Council discusses ways to tweak problems with speed limits, parking
Members of the Charles City Council and city staff, shown on this screen grab from the council’s Tuesday night workshop meeting on Zoom, watch a short video by the Iowa Department of Transportation on how the state sets speed limits.
By Bob Steenson,

Traffic and its many permutations — from parking and speed limits to paving projects and transit drivers — took up a good deal of the Charles City Council’s time during a workshop meeting Tuesday evening.

One road project which has disrupted the flow of traffic through the city since the spring is near its end, said City Engineer John Fallis, who gave un update on the Highway 18 resurfacing project.

“Today they were putting on the final lift,” Fallis said, referring to a layer of hot mix asphalt. “By the end of the week they’ll be doing the intersections so the asphalt surface should be down. Then they’ll have some intake work yet to be done.”

Fallis said the traffic lights still have to be put up, and the last he heard those were still delayed by COVID production slowdowns.

“But what they’re hoping for is by the end of the month they should have most everything done,” he said. “They were putting the final surface on for the westbound. The eastbound was already on. It’s a smooth ride.”

The $4.6 million Iowa Department of Transportation project has included milling and resurfacing Highway 18 from Gilbert Street to the eastern end of town, then continuing on to the Chickasaw County line. Mathy Construction of Dubuque is the general contractor.

Underground work for utilities, storm sewers, signals and curbing, as well as pavement work on U.S. 18 from Gilbert Street to the Cedar River railroad crossing has also been part of the project. New curb and gutter has been added where there wasn’t any, and sidewalks have been updated to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

The council also discussed the speed limit on South Grand Avenue leading out of town, responding to a suggestion by council member Keith Starr, who said a speed limit reduction might be in order considering the growth of businesses in that part of town, as well as the potential for much more traffic if a large business is found for the Avenue of the Saints Development Park.

Starr said businesses in that area are concerned about customers safely entering and leaving their parking lots, especially with three different speed limits in that area — going from 35 mph to 45 mph near Old Highway Road, then from 45 mph to 55 mph at the Molstead Motors and Kwik Star area.

Fallis said the road, part of Highway 18, is a primary highway, so the state is in charge of setting the speed limit, but the city can request that the state do a speed limit study.

That would consist of monitoring the current speed motorists travel in the area and looking at traffic patterns, visibility, intersections and entrances onto the road, accidents and the design of the road. There is no cost for a state speed limit survey, he said.

Fallis said the state DOT puts an emphasis on setting speed limits near the speed that 85% of the traffic is already traveling.

Fallis said he would put possible action on a motion to request a state speed study on the agenda for the next regular council meeting, Monday, Sept. 20.

On the issue of parking, the council discussed concerns over traffic safety at the intersections of North Jackson Street and Clark Street and North Jackson Street and Kelly Street.

Mayor Dean Andrews said those were dangerous intersections, because with vehicles parked along the side of the street near the intersection it was very difficult to see oncoming traffic before pulling out from the stop signs on Clark or Kelly streets onto North Jackson.

Police Capt. Brandon Franke said a quick check of state accident statistics showed six accidents in that area in the last three years.

“It is a very bad intersection to see with cars parked there,” Franke said.

Fallis said there is currently a “No Parking Here to Corner” sign one car length in on the southerly side of the Clark Street-North Jackson Street intersection.

The lengthy council discussion ranged from moving the No Parking sign back to two car lengths at that intersection, placing similar signs at other corners of those intersections, enacting a more general city policy regarding parking near intersections, or even limiting high profile vehicles from parallel parking on streets.

Andrews eventually told Fallis to look at the situation and come back with a recommendation.

Council member DeLaine Freeseman suggested having a member of the Police Department work with Fallis on the recommendation.

On the issue of transit, City Administrator Steve Diers said the city transit system is continually balancing between not having enough drivers and having enough hours for the drivers it has. One part-time driver is leaving the city transit system to take a full-time job, he said.

Diers said the city currently has one full-time transit driver and he would like the council’s permission at the next regular meeting to change the part-time county regional driving position to another full-time position.

That regional position is 100% reimbursed so there would be no additional cost to the city, and having two full-time drivers would hopefully add some stability to the system, he said.

“I think it would be a good solution for us overall,” Diers said.

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