Washington Street to become two-way street downtown

BY JENNY EARL | MARCH 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa City leaders say they've heard positive feedback from business owners about a plan to alter Washington Street, but that's news to some business owners who say they didn't know about the project until they read about it in the news last week.


"I have not heard about it from the city or anybody," said Benjamin Chait, the owner of Chait Galleries Downtown, 218 E. Washington St. He said it wasn't until the news got out last week of the construction that he was informed about the project.

City officials announced on March 2 that construction would likely begin next week on Washington Street, converting it to a two-way street. The street was made into a one-way in 1976 as a part of the city's urban-renewal project.

Kristopher Ackerson, a transport planner for the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County, said officials first considered converting the street following resident input on an Iowa City 2008 bicycle master plan. Officials talked to downtown business owners and the Downtown Association to explain the benefits of the transformation, he said. The project is estimated to cost $60,000 though a construction company hasn't been selected.

"[We] explained the other benefits like making it easier for people to find parking and easier for visitors to find their destination downtown," Ackerson said.

Though Louise Rauh, a designer at Iowa Artisans Gallery, 207 E. Washington St., supports the change, she too was not informed about a meeting between city officials and business owners.

"I think it will help," she said. "I think it will just make downtown less complicated to get around and a little bit easier to find us and a little more visibility. I never understood why [Washington Street] ever was a one-way."

John Yapp, the executive director and transportation planner for the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County, said the change will only help residents and businesses.

"This [change] makes everything a little easier," he said. "We went to a Downtown Association meeting last fall and got a very positive response — so far no negative feedback."

City councilors initially expressed interest in the change at a July 2011 work session.

"I think it is long overdue," said City Councilor Terry Dickens, the co-owner of Herteen & Stocker Jewelers, 101 S. Dubuque St. "I think it will help the flow of traffic around downtown as well as making it easier to bike downtown."

City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said the project will enhance the downtown atmosphere.

"What we need now is a traffic pattern that enhances our downtown's urban ambiance and facilitates a lively pattern of face-to-face interaction," he said.

Iowa City Fire Chief Andrew Rocca also supported the conversion, citing ease of access for emergency vehicles as a primary benefit.

"It certainly should [help], rather than having to drive the long way around to a location in an emergency scene taking the shortest most direct route will improve response times to the central business district on Washington Street," Rocca said.

Construction is set to begin between March 9 and March 12 and will take about two weeks.

"We intentionally are doing it around spring break, so that part of the construction will occur when people are gone so it won't be too inconvenient," Ackerson said. "We also want it to happen during the semester because we want people to see it happening. Spring break is only one full week. When students are here, they'll see the construction happening and, hopefully, be more aware that change occurred."

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