Public Safety

Highway 151 work between Cedar Rapids and Fairfax could bring safety bonus

Springville-151 intersection still awaits plan

Cars drive along Highway 151 in Fairfax on Tuesday near where an 81-year-old man died in August in a traffic accident. The Iowa Department of Transportation will be replacing four bridges and adding left-turn lanes to the highway in work that will begin soon. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Cars drive along Highway 151 in Fairfax on Tuesday near where an 81-year-old man died in August in a traffic accident. The Iowa Department of Transportation will be replacing four bridges and adding left-turn lanes to the highway in work that will begin soon. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Traffic officials believe that years-old plans to improve two stretches of Highway 151 could curb the number of crashes on the highway.

One of the stretches — between Cedar Rapids and Fairfax — will see the beginning of $16 million in improvements this year.

The other — where Springville Road crosses Highway 151 — awaits consensus and funding.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has plans to replace and widen four Highway 151 bridges in Fairfax — over Union Pacific property; over Prairie Creek; and over two drainage ditches.

The project also will add two turn lanes in Fairfax: one near the new bridge over the rail yard and one at the highway’s T intersection with Prairie and Losey avenues, a common spot for rear-end accidents.

In addition, Cedar Rapids is planning to add a $1.5 million roundabout at the busy Dean Road SW intersection with Highway 151/Williams Boulevard, just north of Fairfax. Some of the state’s work on Highway 151 could begin this winter, but the bulk won’t start until the summer of 2020, when portions of Highway 151 will be closed and traffic detoured for about a year, DOT District 6 Planner Catherine Cutler said.

“It’s a very busy road,” she said, estimating 15,000 vehicles travel between Fairfax and Cedar Rapids per day. “And when you have a high concentration of vehicles, it’s likely you’ll see more crashes.”

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On Aug. 25, for example, a 17-year-old driver attempting to make a left turn from Highway 151 at Prairie Avenue pulled in front of another car, killing an 81-year-old man in the other vehicle.

The DOT’s plans to improve that stretch of the highway have nothing to do with crash volume, Cutler said, though the improvements should help reduce the number of crashes along that stretch of highway.

SPRINGVILLE

Northeast of Cedar Rapids, the intersection of Highway 151 and Springville Road also has proved problematic.

The intersection has seen 58 crashes since 2003. Of those, 2 were fatals and 15 involved injuries, according to IDOT.

More than 90 percent of crashes at that intersection are caused by driver error, Cutler said.

Proposals for how to handle that intersection have been debated for at least six years, Cutler said.

“We typically see a lot of T-bone wrecks at that intersection,” she said. “And a majority of the time, the driver that is hit, is hit when they are making their second crossing.”

The way the intersection is set up, drivers turning left onto Highway 151 from Springville Road have to cross four lanes of traffic — two going east and two going west — with a median in the middle.

Frequently, when drivers are T-boned making that turn, it is because they fail to stop in the median and instead immediately cross into traffic, or misjudge the speed at which oncoming vehicles are traveling.

The DOT has proposed building an overpass for Springfield Road to cross over Highway 151, with ramps on either side that would allow traffic to access the highway — much like the ramps at C Street SW and Highway 30.

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Springville residents and business owners have objected to that plan, though, and no final plans have been made or funded.

In the meantime, the DOT lowered the Highway 151 speed limit from 65 to 55 mph on both sides of Springville Road and also installed more lights warning of cross traffic.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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