By DUANE NOLLEN
The Oskaloosa Herald
Members of the Department of Transportation Commission visited the Oskaloosa area Monday as part of a bus tour of the area before a DOT Commission meeting this morning.
The DOT Commission hold four public input meetings around the state each year. Today, the commission meets in Grinnell.
This morning, representatives of the East Central Iowa Transportation Coalition will address the commission about improvements to Highway 63. Then, the South Central Regional Airport Agency will speak about the proposed regional airport between Oskaloosa and Pella.
DOT Commissioner Tom Rielly, of Oskaloosa, spoke about the Monday tour.
Rielly said the Commission started the tour in Grinnell and traveled to the Baxter area to see the intersection of Highway 330 and U.S 65.
“There have been nine fatalities at this intersection,” Rielly said.
The commission also traveled to the Des Moines area to look at ways to improve I-80 safety and to Carlisle to look at flood control issues.
Focusing on the Oskaloosa area, Rielly said area communities have shared transportation concerns.
“We talk about the importance of roads and bridges and airports to the region,” he said.
Industries in Pella have a problem, they need access to travel north and east, Rielly said.
“We have the same problem — to go north and east,” he added.
Cargill, Ajinomoto and Wacker in Eddyville as well as Ottumwa-based industries also need to travel north and east, he said.
Improvements to Highway 63 would serve the needs of the entire area. Also, improvements to Highway 63, including an Oskaloosa bypass would help relieve traffic congestion within Oskaloosa.
“People want good, safe roads to drive on and it’s important to businesses too,” he said.
In addition, Pella needs a new airport. Federal officials have said that if Pella wants to have corporate jets operate there, it needs a new airport, Rielly said.
A joint Pella-Oskaloosa regional airport would be a $30 million project. If the two cities sold their current airports, they could have $15 million to put toward the project. The federal government would cover up to 90 percent of the costs, Rielly said.
DOT Region 5 Engineer Jim Armstrong said the DOT works with local partners in Pella, Oskalosa, Ottumwa, Eddyville, New Sharon and Montezuma on transportation issues. The partners “work well together,” he said.
Armstrong said the regional airport would be close to roads and railroads that run from Cargill in Eddyville all the way to Malcom.
“This is a great opportunity supported by many communities,” Armstrong said.
Rielly said that at the federal government level, budget earmarks for individual transportation projects are out. Leaders need to think in a regional manner.
“As a citizen, I want the government to work more effectively and efficiently,” he said.
Armstrong said the DOT has a program of projects. A DOT study of Highway 63 would look at operations and safety.
Armstrong said there wouldn’t be a construction project without the commission adding it to the program.
Rielly said today’s meeting is his second as a DOT commissioner. He said he likes the public input part of the meeting. It allows commissioners to hear from local communities and indivuals.
“I found that to be very effective,” he said.
Rielly said he really likes the fact that with the DOT Commission, “the politics is out of this. You have a citizen group that’s non-partisan.”
Rielly said he also is impressed with how “innovative the DOT truly is.”
“My hat’s off to Director Paul Trombino,” Rielly said. “He’s doing a great job. He takes a methodical approach to sovling problems.”
Rielly said that his days as a state senator involved with transportation issues made the transition to being a commission member go smoothly.
Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org