Mason: Gateway Project would have "significant, positive impact" on university

BY KRISTEN EAST | JULY 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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Following recent discussions over the $40 million Dubuque Street Gateway Project, University of Iowa President Sally Mason said elevating the major road would have a “significant, positive impact” on the university.

“[Dubuque Street] is one of the major arteries in and out of Iowa City,” she told The Daily Iowan on Wednesday. “To have it subject to flooding on a regular basis is something that’s significant, and we’re all hopeful that the city will be able to deal with it in an effective matter. I think it will help all of us.”

UI and city officials alike maintain that proper precautions would be taken to ensure that university facilities, namely the 1,000-student Mayflower Residence Hall, remain largely unaffected by construction on Dubuque.

The centerpiece to the project includes raising Dubuque Street, as well as elevating the Park Road bridge and road 10 to 15 feet as a way to reduce future closures in the flood-prone area.

Funding for the project would include $10.5 million in federal and state dollars, as well as local option sales tax, general-obligation bonds, and other revenues, the DI previously reported.

While many are in agreement that something needs to be done to help the flood-prone area, locals are up in arms about what that change should entail. Some opponents cry foul to updating Park Road bridge, because it is a historical structure.

Others say Dubuque Street is too major of a road to be closed down any time flooding occurs in Iowa City.

Dubuque Street was closed to travel during all three of the most recent Iowa River floods. The road was closed for more than 60 days in 1993, 30 days in 2008, and, most recently, 17 days in June.

“With Dubuque Street [closed] earlier this summer, I think we saw the impact on not just our students but also on employees and people who come to Iowa City to work every day,” Mason said.

UI officials have witnessed firsthand the toll rising flood levels can have on Dubuque Street and surrounding campus property, which includes Mayflower on Dubuque Street and old Hancher Auditorium near the Park Road bridge.

With Mayflower residing on Dubuque Street, roughly 12 blocks from the central campus, the university relies on the road as the main connection between Mayflower and campus.

“From our perspective, access to Mayflower is critically important for the more than 1,000 residents who will live there, and for the safety of that building,” said Rod Lehnertz, the director of planning, design, and construction for Facilities Management.

During the last week of May, summer occupants of Mayflower were evacuated and relocated to another dormitory. While HESCO barriers erected around the residence hall have now been removed, the building is still reeling from the 2008 flood.

Mayflower is listed as one of nearly 10 UI ongoing, major flood-recovery projects from the 2008 flood. A design and budget for permanent flood-mitigation efforts at the residence hall was submitted to the Board of Regents in June 2012. UI officials expect to award a construction contract for the roughly $8.4 million project this month, according to a regents’ report.

Those permanent fixtures, coupled with the elevation of Dubuque Street, would ultimately provide the best protection for Mayflower against rising flood levels, Lehnertz said.

“If it’s a high flood event, when the university is finished with its permanent flood-protection methods, which includes a floodwall, along with internal pumping systems, whether Dubuque Street is raised or not, it will protect Mayflower from flooding,” he said.

Lehnertz said while the university’s efforts will protect Mayflower from flooding, the building is susceptible to being cut off from access if the Gateway project isn’t pursued.

“The university considers both as important measures in protecting Mayflower,” he said.

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