Local roads being studied

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MAY 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City drivers might see clearer roads next year.

A bill recently passed by the Iowa Legislature calls for the DOT to conduct a study focused on transit needs, specifically traffic on the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Corridor.

“There are a lot of commuters between the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids corridor, and certainly that is evident by the amount of traffic … especially in the morning peak-hour traffic and the late-afternoon peak-hour traffic,” said Stuart Anderson, the director of the Planning, Programming, and Modal Division at Iowa DOT. “The intent is looking at, ‘Are there other options besides just interstate connection?’ ”

The bill has not been signed by Gov. Terry Branstad, but Anderson said he expects the governor will.

“We understand that the legislative intent was really focused on the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Corridor,” he said. “We’ve actually learned the impetus in including this bill was a request from … local planning … out of Cedar Rapids.”

The study is set to formally begin in upcoming weeks and be completed by December 2014.

Anderson said researchers hope to find tools to make traveling easier for commuters, such as simpler ways to sign up for car pools and enhancing bus service.

“Not all people are able to have personal automobiles or want to have automobiles, so they need to have options, especially with fuel prices increasing,” he said. “It’s really expensive, so finding other solutions for that is important.”

Currently, gas in Iowa costs around $3.35 per gallon, according to the Iowa State Gas Prices website.

Hopefully, Anderson said, the ultimate addition in the future would be a light-rail system, although this might be beyond the scope of this specific study.

“The challenge with implementing a light-rail system is it will require a lot of funding … up front and then [including] annual update costs,” Anderson said.

One Johnson County official said he has noticed a long-standing commitment to finding solutions for transit routes in the state.

“I think the reason this is important is because our average daily traffic counts on the I-380 corridor are ever increasing,” said Kent Ralston, acting executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Committee of Johnson County. “I think for environmental issues, safety issues, and efficiency reasons, there are a lot of reasons to get people out of their cars or use public transportation or other forms of transportation.”

Ralston said a large portion of the traffic comes from the University of Iowa.

Originally, he added, the bill proposed a collaboration between the East Central Iowa Council of Governments, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City.

However, the final responsibility falls on the shoulders of the DOT, exempting any projected costs.

“The proponents of the study requested $150,000 to hire a consultant to complete the study, but now the study will be completed by the Iowa DOT and absorbed into its workload,” Ralston said. “So I’m not sure that there will be a cost, per se; I’m assuming just staff time, which has a cost but may not be itemized for a particular study.”

By 2020, DOT Iowa Transportation Commission head David Rose said, the corridor will be maxed out.

“That’s why we need to do the study,” he said. “To make sure [we know] what we need to do, what direction we need to go [and they can] tell us what we need to improve for traffic.”

Although it will take a while to get the information back from the study, he said, it is important for the future of the state.

“It’s a great corridor, and it really is blossoming really well, and when things like that happen, we always need to take a look at them … and be prepared for the future,” he said. “We always hope that Iowa continues to grow and we need to expand our corridors, and that’s good for jobs, good for safety … and good for Iowa.”

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