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Waverly road diet causes tension in town, some ask for it to be reversed

WAVERLY, IOWA – Waverly’s city council has approved a “road diet,” which means they changed their main road in town from four lanes to three lanes. But is it effective?

Bremer Avenue was converted into three lanes last fall. But as traffic backups continue, the diet has become divisive.

Something that Iowans can smile about is Chicago or L.A. traffic is something they don’t have to worry about. But videos showing gridlock, traffic and accidents in Waverly show the small town may have some big city headaches.

Matt Schneider was so frustrated with the road diet, he created the Facebook Page, “Keep Waverly Moving.” He says, “We used to be Waverly Iowa, and the road diet came through, and now we are Los Angeles, Iowa.”

The road diet is something the city council approved after talking with the Iowa Department of Transportation. The DOT says safety is the number one reason they wanted this here.

Pete Hjelmstad says, “We (DOT) saw types of accidents happening above the state average that could be addressed with the three lane diet, such as rear ends, side swipes.” He shared video that the DOT created, explaining why they think the road diet is more safe for the community. Again, click here if you’d like to see that video.

Hjelmstad says around 20 to 30 other Iowa towns have road diets. But in Waverly, some say the diet is too strict.

At Waverly store, The Clothesline, they say, “The road diet is something I don’t understand, what I think it is is a road tragedy.”

Volunteer firefighters shared pictures while being stalled in Bremer Avenue traffic during a fire call.

Some have taken their anger to the city council, asking for the council to please reverse what has been done, and change the lanes back to four lanes.  The council says they are listening and aware of traffic backups. They will not change their decision right now, unless at least one member suggests they look at a new vote.

Council members tell KWWL the reason they stand behind their decision is because they still believe it is safer.

The Iowa DOT says crash numbers are down. Hjelmstad saying, “From 2008 to 2016, there were 41 crashes on average each year, so far since the road diet started in October, between October and April 30th (6 months), there’s been 14 crashes, double that would be 28, so that would be fewer accidents than previous years.”

Schneider says the DOT is only looking at high dollar crashes, but not smaller crashes. He thinks the DOT is sharing false information with the public.

The City Council says another problem is there’s about 25 percent more cars traveling on Bremer Avenue right now because Adams Parkway Bridge is closed for construction. They believe once the bridge is back open, which is scheduled to happen around June 28th, traffic will flow more smoothly on Bremer Avenue.

Some business owners don’t agree, saying traffic was bad before Adams Parkway closed for construction.

KWWL visited 13 stores along Bremer Avenue. Three were in favor of the three lanes, seven said they prefer four lanes, and three were indifferent.

The Mayor asks for the negativity to end. He says he’s talked with a number of people who don’t like that this is causing so much negativity, and they’re worried that this debate will ruin Waverly’s nice, small-town image. The DOT says they’re reconfiguring traffic lights this week, and opening the other bridge very soon, so KWWL is hoping to follow-up to see how traffic is after that.

The police department is staying neutral on the topic. The fire chief says they haven’t had enough fire calls to respond to the change.

Amanda Gilbert

Multimedia Journalist

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