Iowa City 'Gateway Project' plans draw public attention


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Longtime discussions regarding the reconstruction and elevation of one of the area’s most traveled and flood-prone roads seem to finally be becoming a reality.

Often described as Iowa City’s “front door,” Dubuque Street parallels the Iowa River, seeing more than 25,500 cars each day between Interstate 80, downtown, and the University of Iowa campus. The street serves area residents, UI students, staff, and faculty, thousands of sports fans, concert-goers, and cultural aficionados.

City officials expect construction to begin in the spring of 2014 with a spring 2015 completion date. The nearly one-mile portion of the street will rise between 1 and 15 feet in parts from Brown Street to Foster Road. The roadway, along with a new Park Road bridge, will be raised to 658 feet, 1 foot above the 500-year floodplain level.

Melissa Clow, the Iowa City engineering special projects administrator, said with the on-going construction of a new Hancher Auditorium, as well as the Mayflower Residence Hall flood-mitigation project, the time is now to improve the surrounding infrastructure.

Area traffic counts have risen in many parts of the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area. Further downtown and UI development, she said, is expected to drive up numbers even more. Rather than creating a number of separate projects that would be done over a long period of time, she said, officials determined that one project would reduce congestion and traffic problems, alleviate flooding, and improve pedestrian access.

“The pavement on Dubuque Street is more than 30 years old,” she said. “If the elevation was to not happen, we’d still need to put a lot of money in other infrastructure improvements. This will allow the Army Corps of Engineers the opportunity to open its floodgates to full capacity in order to reduce flooding concerns farther downstream. We want to maintain that park-like feel.”

With a nearly $33 million price tag, the preferred alternative plan includes the installation of 8-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of Dubuque Street, maintenance to the Iowa River Trail and Mayflower Cambus stop, the addition of dual left-turn lanes onto Park Road, and small green space portions in road medians. The current bridge will remain open during the construction of the new one. City engineering officials said any trees removed during construction are expected to be replaced.

Iowa City resident Mary Wall, who has lived on Ridge Road since 1960, said she feels more confident in the plans following Thursday’s discussions, but the cost still looms over her.
“Every year since 1960, parts of Dubuque Street have gone under water,” she said. “The water always goes down. Why don’t we just leave it alone?”

Fellow Iowa City resident Marjorie Wilhite said even in high-flooding occurrences in 1993 and 2008, she was still able to get to where she needed to be on a daily basis. To her, the money would be better spent on flood mitigation work in the upcoming Riverfront Crossings District and Riverside Drive corridor.

“I just think it’s such a waste of money,” she said. “You get inconvenienced by other things in this world, but you don’t need $33 million in fixing that. Being in inconvenience is a part of life.”

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