Iowa City Council opts for smaller 'Gateway' project

Nearby residents had opposed project's initial scope Nearby residents had opposed project's initial scope

Gregg Hennigan
Published: January 21 2014 | 9:21 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:29 am in
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IOWA CITY – The City Council Tuesday night chose to scale back a key aspect of a major flood-related project from what city staffers recommended.

The council voted 6-0 to elevate a stretch of Iowa City’s Dubuque Street near City Park to a foot above the 100-year flood level.  With the same vote, the council said nearby Park Road bridge should be reconstructed in a through-arch style and raised to the 200-year flood elevation.

The height the council settled on is lower than the staff recommendation to reconstruct Dubuque Street between Foster and Kimball roads to 1 foot above the peak of the historic 2008 flood.

People who live nearby have objected to the initially proposed scope of the project and the possible harm to trees and a bluff next to the road.

Council members said they did not see enough of a benefit to going higher than they chose. In the past 20 years, Dubuque Street has been closed for 150 days due to flooding on the Iowa River, according to the city. With the street a foot above the 2008 flood, that number would have been zero. At the 100-year-plus-1-foot elevation the council chose, it would have been seven days.

Council member Susan Mims said that going higher would cost more money and do more environmental damage to neighboring properties. The design parameters the council settled on will cost an estimated $36.26 million for the road and bridge work, which is more than $2 million cheaper than if Dubuque Street was at the height staff wanted.

“To me, that’s giving us the best bang for the buck,” she said of the council’s choice.

City officials say the elevation of Dubuque Street and Park Road bridge, which it calls the Gateway Project, will help low-lying neighborhoods by decreasing water back up, as happened in 2008 when debris clogged the space below the bridge deck, and keep open a street that serves as a main entryway to the University of Iowa campus and downtown Iowa City.

Council members and Public Works Director Rick Fosse warned flooding will still occur no matter what is done.

“This isn’t preventing it from flooding,” council member Michelle Payne said. “This is keeping it open the most time we can during a flood.”

The 100-year flood level plus 1 foot is the lowest the city could go to keep a $10.5 million federal grant for the project.

On the bridge type, the through arch, in which the deck passes through the arch, was considered more visually pleasing than the other two options.

Staff recommended the bridge be elevated to the 200-year-plus-1-foot level but did not endorse a bridge style.

Some of the residents who have been critical of the project commended the council for dialing back the scope. That included Joe Coulter of 1818 N. Dubuque St., but he also said he believed city, state and federal officials have failed to comply with requirements dealing with affected property owners. He said he had consulted his attorneys and the city may be “at risk of legal action.”

The city will now move into the design phase of the project and hopes to start construction in 2016. Council members are to set parameters for things like lane widths and landscaping at a March meeting.

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