Few highway projects have moved as slowly, so perhaps fittingly, the first piece of dirt digging on the long-delayed, $200-million Highway 100 extension project from Edgewood Road NE west and south to Highway 30 will move a pond to accommodate turtles.
Work on the pond project began last week, in mid-December, because the turtle species of most concern — the state-threatened Blanding’s turtle — has dug in now to hibernate in the muck at the bottom of the pond and so won’t be disturbed. Come 2013, the mostly aquatic Blanding’s turtles that live in this little section of the world will get a chance to orientate themselves to the new and larger pond, an edge of which nearly touches the existing pond.
With the new pond in place, the old pond will be filled in to await the actual highway construction. The new pond will be about 27,900 square feet in size and 5.5 feet deep, compared to the 16,000 square feet of pond of shallower depth that it will replace.
Cathy Cutler, a planner in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s district office in Cedar Rapids, says the new eastbound lanes of the Highway 100 extension will skim the spot where the existing pond has been.
This pond-moving work is taking place on the front lines of what has been a lengthy environmental and political battle, which was precipitated by the highway project’s proximity to the 20-acre, state-sanctioned Rock Island Botanical Preserve, then complicated by the donation by developers of land to the county-managed state preserve to protect both their housing development and the state preserve from the highway.
Finally, in June 2012, the Iowa Transportation Commission returned the long-stalled project to the commission’s coveted five-year construction funding program, setting aside $108.7 million to build the first 3.8-million section from Edgewood Road NE to Covington Road — including a bridge across the Cedar River — and another $76.4 million to pay for right of way purchases, grading and structures for the second half of the project, taking it south to Highway 30. Money for road construction, lighting, traffic signs and erosion control on the project’s second phase is expected to come as new years are added to the commission’s five-year plan.
The DOT’s’ Cutler says right of way purchases, soil borings and other preconstruction work are now under way on the project, but she says moving the pond next to the state preserve is a first small step in the highway project’s construction.
What do you think of the project’s progress so far? How will the Highway 100 extension, when it’s finally complete, benefit Cedar Rapids?