A group of neighbors along Leversee Road, a gravel road which starts in Black Hawk County on the edge of Cedar Falls and ends just east of Janesville, say they are worried about the road’s condition and the safety of drivers on it.
In the aftermath of a fatal accident, which took the life of a 17-year-old Janesville student on May 30 on that road, Brynn Friedrich, an educator and a mother, voiced her concerns in a Facebook post, which has since gone viral.
Brynn and her husband, Shannon Friedrich, who live on the corner of Leversee and Mount Vernon roads, know firsthand about the dangers of the gravel road.
On Sept. 15, one of their sons crashed his vehicle not far from where the fatal accident happened last Thursday. He suffered head injuries and a collapsed lung, but has since recovered.
Brynn Friedrich’s post, which has been shared 281 times, as of Monday afternoon, says it is time to “think and speak proactively” about the road.
“Make no mistake: I am blaming the road,” she wrote. “Leversee is a complete disaster, and has been for quite some time. Our residents have made calls, written letters and emails pleading for consistency in upkeep, repairs or paving-to no avail. We understand that many steps must be taken to make it safe, and that some aspects are out of the control of the county and its hard workers.”
Not long ago, the post continues, the Friedrichs had found “a young injured girl in our field in front of our house after her accident,” and their neighbors “rescued a pair of teens involved in a rough single-car crash.”
Many of the Friedrichs’ neighbors have similar stories and agree the road poses a danger to motorists.
They add it is not uncommon for them to pull out vehicles from ditches or help drivers who crash on their lawns.
A small group — including Tolly Thompson, the famed wrestler from Janesville, Reggie Hovenga, a pastor and father of 11, as well as the Friedrichs — met with Waverly Newspapers in the backyard of the Friedrichs’ homestead to spell out their concerns and seek solutions.
In a nutshell, they believe their neighborhood has changed significantly since the closure of the access roads to U.S. Highway 218, three years ago.
They say the amount of traffic has increased manifold and the road, which was engineered to be a gravel county road when the area was first developed. (Watch the full interview on the newspaper’s website or Facebook page).
On that particular Sunday afternoon, traffic was sparse, but since the road is now the major in and out way for the families who live in the area and their teen kids, it is busy during the week.
Farmers and delivery trucks as well as commuters traveling to Waverly, especially some seeking to avoid downtown congestion, add to the traffic count.
Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson, who was the main driving force behind the installation of the Cedar Wapsi overpass, agrees that the closure of the access roads, which he called “an unintended consequence” of the effort to build the overpass, has increased traffic safety around the highway, as motorists from the gravel roads cannot turn onto the highway and neither can vehicles traveling on the highway turn onto the gravel roads.
However, Sheriff Thompson added that that closure of the access points has also brought about a “subtle” increase of traffic on Leversee Road.
According to DOT data, in 2017, the latest available for that area, after the overpass was built, the traffic count in the stretch between Cedar Wapsi and Bennington Road was at 120 vehicles daily. In 2014, by contrast, when Cedar Wapsi was still an at-grade intersection, before the building of the overpass, the DOT estimates there were 80 vehicles on that stretch.
Sheriff Thompson noted that the closure has also created a challenge for EMS and fire trucks off of Mount Vernon Road.
As a result of the increased traffic and the harsh winter, the road has seen a lot of erosion and debilitating frost boils, the mounds of mud and earth that are formed by the frost, which have caused problems for local residents. (The county even held a special educational presentation for the Black Hawk Board of Supervisors to explain why gravel roads are so bad after the impact of a harsh winter.)
On Sunday afternoon, the neighbors expressed their frustration with the multiple communications they have had with county officers asking for an overall solution to the problem. Some had even written to Gov. Kim Reynolds for help, but to no avail.
Cathy Nicholas, one of the officials the neighbors had contacted earlier in search of a solution, told Waverly Newspaper there is no allocation in the five-year plan to remedy the situation.
She said the county has committed its resources to a big project with Grundy County, which is expected to be completed in the current timeframe.
In order to fix the road with the proper drainage and widen the ditches, among other steps that need to be taken before paving the road, she estimated it would cost $2 million per mile to do the job right.
“In the next 10 years, we will shift our attention to Leversee Road,” she said.
Sheriff Thompson said that in the past three to five years, his agency has handled a “handful” of accidents on Leversee Road, but also added that not all accidents are necessarily reported to authorities.
“Any time citizens spotlight road safety and motoring safety, I am all for it,” he said.