SOLON– A yellow traffic signal means to proceed with caution.
Not enough people traveling Highway 1 through Solon have been able to grasp the concept.
The Solon City Council last week agreed to proceed with a project funded by an Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) grant which will remove the flashing yellow lights which stretch across the Highway 1 intersection of with Main Street.
Similar hanging lights– yellow for Highway 1 and red for cross-traffic– were taken down at the 5th Street intersection when the city widened the highway and added turn lanes, public works director Scott Kleppe told council members at an Oct. 16 meeting.
The problem with the flashing four-way beacons in general and especially at 5th Street, he said, was that they tend not to line up well with lanes of traffic.
“I made the call that we’re not going to put it back,” Kleppe said. “They seem to cause more confusion than anything with the yellow on the Highway 1 side.”
The DOT was not thrilled, Kleppe noted, but eventually conceded and allowed the change.
Ever since, Kleppe said, the idea has been to get rid of the other one as well. “We were hoping that was going to go away with the Main Street project, but that didn’t happen,” he said.
The DOT had a subsequent funding opportunity, and Kleppe applied for it.
Through the program, the flashing lights overhanging the street would be replaced by solar-powered lights mounted on the side of the street. The DOT wanted to place flashing yellows along Highway 1 about mid-block before the intersection, he said, but after a lengthy email correspondence, state engineers agreed to Kleppe’s request to drop the yellows altogether.
After a few months of nothing, the DOT notified Kleppe the city was good to go on the project.
The city will have the expense of the project reimbursed by the state grant.
“So these aren’t going on Highway 1?” asked council member Mark Krall.
“There will be nothing on Highway 1,” Kleppe replied. “No flashing light on Highway 1.”
Krall didn’t see the need for the flashing red light on the Main Street side, and eventually voted no on the project.
“Have there been issues from people at the stop signs there east and west?” Krall asked.
“The ongoing issue is always north and southbound traffic thinking they have to stop,” council member Brad Kunkel responded.
The new setup will be similar to what’s in use in front of Lakeview Elementary, Kleppe said, a flashing red light mounted on top of a stop sign. In the case of Main Street, it will be a permanent stop sign as opposed to the temporary one used at the school.
Neither the city nor the DOT have a record of why the flashing lights were ever put in place, Kleppe said.
“I just think it’s not necessary to have red lights at these east and west sides,” Krall noted. “I don’t get it.” If the DOT’s concerned about safety, he said, they should look at the traffic signs which obstruct vision to the north at the 5th Street intersection.
“These red lights basically cost us no money, we just need to front the money and we’ll be reimbursed,” mayor Cami Rasmussen said. “And it will get rid of the flashing yellows.”
There are other minor benefits as well. The overhanging wires will be removed (consistent with Main Street to the west), and the city will no longer have the electrical usage for the lights.
City administrator Cassandra Lippincott indicated there was adequate money in the city budget to cover the project cost until the state reimbursement was received.
Council members approved the acceptance of the grant on a 2-1 vote, with Krall against.
“I’m sorry, I just kind of think it’s ridiculous,” Krall said.