Iowa City’s Gateway Project

Iowa City’s Gateway project has the potential to create a traffic nightmare and logistical issues for residents, commuters, and school travelers alike. This is the project intended to provide some relief from future flooding by raising Dubuque Street and building a new Park Road bridge over the Iowa River to allow water to flow more freely under it during flooding. The project also includes adding a third lane to Park Road where it intersects Riverside Drive. Dubuque Street is a major arterial road that leads traffic in and out of Iowa City from Interstate 80. As the Iowa City Community School District considers its future redistricting and bussing plans, its administrators will need to consider the impact of road construction on travel time and be prepared for construction to take longer than anticipated.

Iowa City staff expects that the design phase of this project will last up to 16 months and bid-letting will occur no earlier than June of 2015. Work could be delayed if the city is unable to promptly acquire the necessary easements and property rights to complete the project. Here is the link to the Gateway’s project website. See http://www.iowacitygateway.org/

Once started, city staff expects construction to last two seasons. This is a big project for Iowa City, and I would not be surprised to see construction time exceed two seasons. While construction is ongoing, there should generally be one lane open in each direction on Dubuque Street. There will be times when all lanes on the impacted part of Dubuque Street will need to close. Melissa Clow, an engineer with the City of Iowa City wrote that “when full closures do occur, it will be for a minimal amount of time and when the University is on break. An example of when closures will happen is when we are ready to switch traffic from the old bridge to the new bridge and the Dubuque Street / Park Road intersection will need to be raised in its entirety to do so.”*

Below is a breakdown of the estimated $49.5 million cost for Iowa City’s Gateway project*:

• Estimated construction costs to elevate Dubuque Street to the 100 year flood elevation +1 foot and construct a Through Arch bridge elevated to the 200 year +1 foot, plus add a 3rd lane to Park Road where it intersects Riverside Drive are $36.5 million.
• Estimated consultants’ contracts costs (NEPA process, project management & design) are $4.8 million.
• Estimated cost to build a Sanitary Trunk Sewer is $4.4 million.
• Estimated construction administration and inspection costs are $3.8 million

Around $12.4 million of this estimated total cost (which could increase) will be paid by Iowa City general obligation bonds, which will be repaid by the owners of the approximately 22,432** taxable parcels in Iowa City. I would not be surprised to see Iowa City ask its voters to approve a new local option sales tax to lessen the burden on these property owners. With Iowa’s property tax reform negatively impacting Iowa City’s revenues for the coming years, the Iowa City Community School District’s plan to bond for $120 million plus, and the Johnson County supervisors’ consideration of a bond for jail and courthouse projects, local governments will need to be careful not to overburden taxpayers and drive away potential growth to less expensive neighbors. There is a lot of stuff on the plate of Johnson County taxpayers—perhaps more than they can swallow.

*Emails from Melissa Clow, Special Projects Engineer, Iowa City, dated January 27, 2014
**Iowa City Assessor’s office

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