City Council tackles IMS, hospital curve traffic

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July 14, 2015 - 12:00 AM

A pair of streets on opposite sides of Iola Middle School will remain open to two-way traffic, but will come with tighter controls to keep the flow of traffic moving.
At Monday night’s meeting, Iola City Council members approved measures to prevent motorists from stopping their cars to drop off or pick up students. The new controls will affect eastbound traffic on East Street and westbound cars on Jackson Avenue from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days.
School and city officials fear adding fifth grades to the middle school in the fall — part of USD 257’s conversion to grade-level attendance centers — will add to the traffic congestion.
Council members visited at length with Police Chief Jared Warner about stepping up patrols once school starts.
Officers will give parents advance warnings for a few weeks, but will likely crack down after an undisclosed grace period.
“I would think we would give that a good shot, and enforce it eventually,” Warner said.
“But one concern I have, more than one-way streets, is there’s no effective way to get kids across U.S. 54,” to get to the middle school.
The closest crosswalks for IMS students to cross the highway are at Buckeye and Kentucky streets, Warner said.
Many students, however, are drawn to the old Allen County Hospital curve because of Casey’s convenience store.
“Then, they’re running across the hospital curve, which is the worst part they could cross,” Warner said.
Council members directed Warner and Schinstock to reach out to the Kansas Department of Transportation to determine if a crosswalk could be added on U.S. 54, perhaps at Oak Street, and if signage or a flashing signal could be added.
“I think we’ll find out real quick if this motion works,” Councilman Jon Wells said.
Schinstock said at least one ramp will be needed at the Oak Street intersection, to remain accessible to disabled pedestrians.

IN A RELATED matter, Council members agreed a traffic study is necessary to determine if, or how, U.S. 54 would change if a new grocery store or apartment complexes are added to the old Allen County Hospital site.
But they tabled a decision on a proposal from Thrive Allen County asking the city to fund a $4,900 study until more information is available.
The consensus was reached following a testy exchange between Thrive Executive Director David Toland and Iola City Administrator Carl Slaugh.
Toland said information he relayed to Slaugh should have been made available to the Council prior to its June 22 meeting, including bids from three firms willing to do a traffic study.
Toland noted Slaugh told Council members then a study could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000.
“The bid we’re recommending is $4,900,” Toland responded. “The most expensive (of three) is just under $10,000.”
Toland refuted the notion that pursuing plans to develop the site is akin to committing the city to spending tax dollars to spur private development.
“The fact is, the city is committing to nothing,” Toland said. “We are asking the city to commit to a $4,900 traffic study. The city is the biggest beneficiary of this development. The requests are modest.
“We think (a traffic study) will give us the answer on what modifications need to be made to the streets,” Toland continued. “If this comes back and says no modifications are needed, that’s great. If it turns out there needs to be modifications, we will come back and say we need help to make this $7 million project happen.”
Slaugh denied Toland’s allegations, saying the reason he didn’t provide the bid information to the Council was because it did not have an accompanying site plan.
The plans Toland provided the city previously, and announced to the media, are not sufficient, Slaugh said.
“If you do a site plan, it has certain information about development, “ Slaugh said. “Then you can present that to an engineering firm.”

COUNCIL members, meanwhile, had other questions.
With ongoing reconstruction of a U.S. 54 bridge near Yates Center, traffic along the highway in Iola is certain to be much different this year than in the future, Councilman Bob Shaughnessy said.
And with proposed housing complexes as part of the development, planners also must be cognizant traffic near the site will increase accordingly, he said.
“ In an ideal world, because ground-breaking is not expected until April,” perhaps the study could be completed sometime after the bridge reopens in October, Toland replied.
Mayor Joel Wicoff said his concern was with the thoroughness of the planned study.
Because the hospital curve incorporates an elevation change, using existing CAD drawings as part of the study may not suffice, Wicoff said.
“We’d be happy to defer this for two weeks to visit more and make sure what we’re buying is what we need,” Toland said. “I don’t even want to be dealing with this. The reason I’m bringing you bids, is I can’t get support from city administrator’s office. I’m the economic development guy.”
Councilman Jon Wells struck a more conciliatory tone at the conclusion of the discussion.
“We as a council are for this,” Wells said. “I’d like to see this moving forward. Five thousand dollars to $10,000 (for a traffic study) is not a lot of skin in the game. I’d like the county to know the city is on board with this project. We will get the data we need.”
“We appreciate the Council’s support,” Toland replied. “It’s been strong and steady.”

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