With a process that took nearly twice as long as expected now over, Iowa City can move ahead with what city officials have identified as their top project resulting from the 2008 floods.
The city received word last month that the Federal Highway Administration has determined the $40 million Gateway Project – which includes the elevation of flood-prone Dubuque Street and Park Road bridge – would have no significant impacts on the quality of the environment.
That was the final step in a federally required environmental assessment that was supposed to last 18 months but instead dragged on for nearly three years, said Melissa Clow, Iowa City’s special projects administrator.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” City Manager Tom Markus said.
The city can now move to the design phase of the project. The City Council will be asked at a Jan. 21 meeting to set the parameters of the project including the level of protection it wants for Dubuque Street, the backwater reduction goal for the bridge and the structural type of the bridge.
The design process is expected to take another 18 to 20 months, with construction lasting two years.
City officials initially hoped to start construction in 2014, and as recently as this fall they were shooting for 2015.
“At this point, realistically, here in the engineering office we’re saying 2016 or 2017,” Clow said.
In September, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which is an independent federal agency, sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration recommending that the review process be reopened to engage the neighbors and resolve adverse effects to historic properties.
That process was delayed by the federal government shutdown in October. The Federal Highway Administration ultimately concluded the city had met with and communicated with affected residents numerous times and the project posed no adverse effect to cultural and historical resources, according to a document stating its finding.
Some people who live in the area, which includes historic properties, have called for the project to be scaled back and are worried about the loss of trees and the grading of a bluff.
At meetings this past September and October, some City Council members seemed interested in a smaller project than the staff recommendation to elevate the bridge and Dubuque Street, between Foster and Kimball roads, to the 500-year flood level plus 1 foot.