Will congestion on Cedar Rapids' Collins Road ever ease up?

More retail means more traffic as growth continues on well-traveled road

Published: December 12 2013 | 3:30 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:44 am in
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Drive along Collins Road and you'll most likely find yourself sitting in traffic as you pass Rockwell Collins’s sprawling complex, which houses the majority of its 8,000 Cedar Rapids employees, hundreds of residential homes, several schools and churches, and restaurants squeezed between store after store.

“There’s not a lot of unused land,” admitted Vern Zakostelecky, city of Cedar Rapids community development planner. “There’s not a whole lot left, (the road) is pretty much developed out.

"The only other development," he added, "would be additions or conversions of uses, adding new tenants.”

There are already about 90 retailers on the road, not including those in Lindale Mall, estimates Scott Olson, a Cedar Rapids councilman and commercial real estate agent for Skogman Commercial Group.

The area, a major commercial and industrial corridor, also is one of Cedar Rapids's most congested.

More than 30,500 cars drive across portions of the road each day, with delays during all peak hours of a normal weekday, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. And because we're now into the holiday shopping season, traffic is increasing, by as much as 20 percent.

The high number of vehicles also means a high number of accidents.

A 2008 Iowa Department of Transportation environmental assessment, the most recent available, shows that Collins Road has three intersections — F Avenue, Northland Avenue and First Avenue — that have a crash rate above the statewide average. The current statewide average crash rate for urban intersections in Iowa is about 0.9  crashes per million vehicles entering the intersection, according to IDOT.

The majority of the crashes are rear-end collisions, which is typical on a roadway that is operating with traffic volumes that exceed its capacity.

More retail, more congestion

And the addition of new retailers in the 150,000-square-foot Kmart shopping center and Lindale Mall are likely to add to the problem, Zakostelecky said.

National retailers Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, Fresh Market and Shoe Carnival will be replacing Kmart, which is closing its 43-year-old store, and the Iowa Department of Transportation, which is pursuing another location for its 7,000-square-foot driver’s license station.

More retailers are anticipated to sign on for remaining, smaller spaces by the time remodeling is completed in the fall of 2014.

"There's lots of possibilities for redevelopment," said Joe Mailander, program manager for development services department for the city of Cedar Rapids."The Kmart redevelopment will probably spur more."

Across the street, Lindale Mall is undergoing a major 14,600-square-foot expansion that is adding shops and restaurants to the 53-year-old retail center.

It’s also likely that more retail will replace Hy-Vee, 279 Collins Road NE near Lindale Mall, in the coming years. The company has said it will close the store once a new one is built.

And more retail will bring more congestion.

Providing relief

So when, if ever, will traffic relief come to Collins Road?

A project to expand Highway 100 would run that road across the Cedar River about 4 miles north of downtown, then turn south and connect with Highway 30, creating another north-south route away from Interstate 380.

The first phase of the $200 million project will begin in 2014 and should be complete in 2018, with entire project finished in 2020. However, this expansion will do little to alleviate congestion on Collins Road and will create more of a beltway around the city and provide more routes to Collins Road.

The expansion "will have very little affect. People go to the road for the attractions, the employment, restaurants and the mall,” said Catherine Cutler, Iowa DOT district transportation planner. “This will be just another option to get there and really provide relief to 380 and Edgewood (Road).”

City plans to eventually widen Collins Road to six lanes to help ease the flow of traffic are closer to becoming a reality, noted Gary Petersen, engineering capital improvement project manager for the city's Public Works department. “The final design is the next phase.”

There have been talks about widening the road for years — there was even a study back in 1999 that evaluated crash rates on the road to underline the need.

The joint project with the Iowa DOT will take several years and isn't slated to start until 2015 at the earliest, Petersen explained. It will take several construction seasons to finish, probably being completed by 2017.

The city's Mailander said Cedar Rapids also is working with property owners to build an underpass by Lindale Mall, lifting the section of Collins Road by Lindale Drive — which runs north off Collins, just east of the mall — and then extending Lindale Drive under Collins Road.

This project - along with the city's purchase of a handful of homes along C Avenue near the Northland Square shopping center to build a secondary access point and provide another way in and out of Collins Road - should help alleviate some congestion, he said.

The city tried to sell the structures, but Mailander doesn't believe anyone put forth any bids, and the homes soon will be demolished.

“Before all of the shopping centers, it used to just be storage centers … but that corridor has intensified over time. Most land that was underutilized was developed out,” Zakostelecky said.

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