DOT study: I-380 interchange at Tower Terrace Road is justified

Hiawatha mayor: Many steps yet to come

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A half-a-million-dollar study for the Iowa Department of Transportation and the city of Hiawatha concludes what the north piece of the metro area has talked about and hoped for some 20 years — that there is a justification to build a new Interstate 380 interchange at Tower Terrace Road.

“The celebration hasn’t started yet,” Hiawatha Mayor Tom Theis, a driving force behind the study, joked on Thursday after a meeting of the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization. “But yes, it’s good news.”

A similar study completed in 2006 concluded that a Tower Terrace Road interchange — between an existing interchange to the south at Boyson Road in Hiawatha and an existing interchange about 3.5 miles to the north at County Home Road on the north edge of Robins — was not then justified.

The new study, now in draft form and under review by city and county officials in the Cedar Rapids metro area, concludes that the Tower Terrace Road interchange is justified to help accommodate future traffic growth, to alleviate future traffic congestion at the Boyson Road and County Home Road interchanges and to support planned economic development in the area.

The study was conducted by HNTB Corp., Kansas City, Mo., and points out that the DOT set aside the right of way for an interchange at Tower Terrace Road in the 1980s when this section of Interstate 380 was built.

In the end, though, Mayor Theis on Thursday called the study’s conclusion “a tiny step with a lot of little steps” yet to come before the interchange, with a price tag of about $16 million, is built.

Making plans

John Bender, recently retired president of Ament Inc. who is member of the corridor planning group and who is advising Hiawatha on the project, added, “We’d be ecstatic if was built in five years. It’s all a matter of funding.”

Cathy Cutler, a planner in the DOT’s Cedar Rapids district office, told Theis and the other metro area representatives on the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization’s board on Thursday that the DOT currently views the proposed Tower Terrace Road interchange as a project that benefits the jurisdictions along the interstate more than the interstate itself. As a result, the DOT would look to local jurisdictions to carry the load of project funding.

In the near term, the metro planning organization must decide to place the interchange project on its list of priority projects, which is a requirement before the project can seek state or federal funding help. The organization will vote on that matter in the next couple of months.

In the near term, too, the member jurisdictions of the planning organization are being asked comment on the interchange justification study before the draft report is finalized. It then will be sent to the Federal Highway Administration to seek its approval to add an interchange to the Interstate system.

Benefit to cities

A new Tower Terrace Road interchange will sit both in Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids, but its construction is also of great interest to Robins and Marion. All four cities have plans to build, improve or widen portions of Tower Terrace Road from Highway 13 on Marion’s east side to west of Interstate 380.

Tim Mooney, a Marion developer and a Marion representative on the planning board, called on the group and the jurisdictions they represent to join forces to get the Tower Terrace Road project built. Much of Marion’s piece has been built or is being built, he noted.

Dave Elgin, Cedar Rapids’ public works director and city engineer and a board member, said he wanted the group to put a related project — the extension of Edgewood Road NE north to Tower Terrace Road — back on its priority list because it has been seen as a compliment to the Tower Terrace Road interchange project. Hiawatha’s Theis didn’t disagree.

All the moving parts prompted Samantha Dahlby, a Cedar Rapids representative on the board, to suggest that the board needed to decide which pieces come first and which come later. Should the interchange come first or later, she wondered.

Dick Ransom, president of Hall & Hall Engineers Inc. and Hiawatha’s city engineer, said as much: “Yes, we’d like to be jumping up and down. ... But there are a lot of balls in the air.”

The justification study — the cost of which was split between the DOT and funds that the planning organization controls — notes that a new Tower Terrace Road interchange would provide a more direct route for some motorists to Interstate 380 and so reduce traffic volumes on Boyson Road, County Home Road and Center Point Road. Delays during peak morning and evening times would be reduced at both the Boyson Road and County Home Road interchanges with a new interchange between them, the report states.

The interchange study recommends some related improvements to Boyson Road, County Home Road and Tower Terrace Road. It also notes that a different DOT study has recommended that Interstate 380 between Blairs Ferry Road and Tower Terrace Road be widened from four to six lanes. The DOT’s Cutler said the DOT would expect to cover much of the cost of that improvement.

All of Thursday’s planning organization discussion comes at a point in time when the board’s Cedar Rapids majority has succeeded in redirecting the limited funding the board controls each year to trail projects and away from road projects.

At the same time, too, Cedar Rapids is focused on the Highway 100 extension project, a $200 million project being funded through the DOT that takes the highway west and south to Highway 30.

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