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Editorial: Move forward with the Gateway project

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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In an interview with The Daily Iowan this week, University of Iowa President Sally Mason said she believes the Iowa City Gateway project, a plan to raise Dubuque Street and Park Road bridge above flood levels, would have a “significant, positive impact” on the university.

The Gateway project is a $40 million plan that would raise Dubuque Street, which carries approximately 25,500 vehicles every day, by as much as 15 feet and replace the low-lying Park Road bridge entirely. Around $10.5 million would come from federal and state funding; the remainder would be funded through local-option sales taxes, general-obligation bonds, and other local revenue sources.

Dubuque Street, one of the main routes into Iowa City from Interstate 80 to the north, has been made impassible by flooding twice in the past five years. It was closed for 30 days during the 2008 flood and for 17 days last month.

The city should move forward with the Gateway project. One of the city’s largest streets should not be vulnerable to closing because of flooding, and the structurally deficient Park Road bridge should be replaced.

The project has been stalled by some Iowa City residents who believe that the new roadways would compromise the historic Park Road bridge and some surrounding homes and the degrade the natural environment in the area. While some of these concerns are valid, changes to these streets are badly needed.

The Park Road bridge, built in the 1950s, is historic but also structurally deficient and requires replacement. Its current design limits the flow of the Iowa River and can exacerbate flooding in some areas. During the 2008 flood, the water was as much as 14 inches higher upstream from the bridge.

In 2012, the Iowa Department of Transportation determined that the project would have no adverse impact on the surrounding historic buildings if the temporary effects of construction were minimized by restoring any damaged landscaping.

The project would, however, have a somewhat negative impact on the surrounding environment. The project would encroach on some parkland and wetland areas, as well as slightly increase traffic noise in some nearby neighborhoods.

But according to an assessment of the project by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Iowa Department of Transportation, and the city of Iowa City, there are significant costs associated with flood-related street closures.

A failure to rebuild the streets would have “potential long-term negative impacts on economic vitality of the Iowa City area when high water causes road closures in the Dubuque Street and Park Road corridor.” Such closures cut off access to downtown businesses and add several miles to the commutes of many local employees.

Such a massive construction project will, of course, lead to some temporary congestion and road closures, but the project assessment predicts that Dubuque Street will be reduced to one lane in either direction during most of the construction, and any necessary closures will be scheduled during windows of off-peak traffic.

There are significant tradeoffs here to be sure. The Gateway project is costly and would be time consuming. It would also require the replacement of a historic bridge and cause some headaches for the residents of that section of town. But such a major stretch of road should not be vulnerable to flooding on the Iowa River.


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