Iowa DOT hopes flashing signals cut crashes at notorious Springville corner

Purpose is to help motorists decide when to cross four-lane highway

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There’s something flashy and new to grab the attention of drivers in Springville.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has installed a pair of traffic signals called an Intersection Conflict Warning System at a deadly intersection in the name of increasing safety. Crews activated them this week.

The DOT has had its eye on an intersection at the south edge of town, where Springville Road crosses Highway 151, for a long time. Since 2003, there have been more than two dozen crashes there, and of those, two people have been fatal.

Transportation leaders installed a camera in the area to find out what the problem was. They said the biggest issue happens when motorists on Springville Road pull out to cross the highway at the wrong times. That’s where the new technology comes in.

"These are actually new signals to Iowa," Iowa DOT spokeswoman Cathy Cutler said. "They are actually traffic-activated signals, so it activates as traffic passes by on 151, but it's to signal to side road traffic when there's a safe spot to come out and when there's traffic coming towards them."

The blinking lights are triggered by detectors installed in the pavement. They flash for about 12 seconds, which is the average time it takes for a vehicle to get across the intersection.

The Iowa DOT said the system is only the third set of its kind to go up in Iowa. The other two can be found in Anamosa and Dyersville.

"We've actually used it pretty successfully at other intersections where we've had trouble with side road traffic not picking good gaps to go across a four-lane highway,” Cutler said.

Earlier this year, the DOT posted an advisory speed limit of 55 mph -- using a yellow sign and a yellow flashing light -- for Highway 151 traffic going through the intersection. The legal speed limit, marked by the traditional white rectangular signs, remains 65 mph.

The DOT isn't alone in hoping the new tactics will reduce the number of crashes at the Springville intersection. Amy Bartels relives the pain of losing her husband, Roger, in February of 2009.

"There's two police officers standing in my door way and they hated to inform me, but my husband was killed at the corner of 151 and Springville road at 6 in the morning,” Bartels remembered.

Bartels has been pushing hard for more safety measures, but she questions if the new signals will work.

"The blinking light will tell them that someone's coming,” Bartels said. “But on a busy, busy day, I don't think it will stop blinking and when do you go when there's traffic coming? It just confuses you more.”

The Monticello woman said the solution to the problem is an interchange with on and off ramps. The DOT agrees, saying these new warning signals are temporary fixes until it can secure funding to build a multi-million dollar interchange. Transportation leaders said plans for the interchange are in the works right now. They expect to know in about a year and a half what that will look like.

The Intersection Conflict Warning System costs about $50,000, and is mostly funded by federal dollars.

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