Iowa City nearing decision on flood-related Gateway Project

Project would include elevating part of Dubuque Street, Park Road bridge

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More than five years after the 2008 flood, the City Council is getting ready to make its biggest decisions yet on its top flood-related priority.

But some residents hope the project, as proposed now, never comes to be.

The City Council Tuesday night held the first of a two-part discussion on the so-called Gateway Project, which calls for the elevation of a portion of flood-prone Dubuque Street and the Park Road bridge.

At a work session, the council heard a review of three years’ worth of work on the project and options for what to build.

City staff is asking the council to decide Oct. 1 on what level of protection it wants for Dubuque Street, the backwater reduction goal for the bridge and the structural type of the bridge.

Although council members did not make any decisions, or even express opinions, Tuesday night, a few of them indicated they are interested in a smaller project than staff is recommending.

Susan Mims, for instance, wondered whether some turn lanes on the expanded Dubuque Street and Park Road are needed, as well as sidewalks on both sides of the street.

A smaller footprint “allows us to try to protect those trees and the grading concerns,” she said.

Some people who live in the area, which includes historic properties, are worried about the loss of trees and grading of a bluff.

Jennifer Wagner, who lives nearby, said even with those concerns residents are not opposed to some form of mitigation.

“This is not a fight between choosing between flood mitigation and historic preservation,” she said. “To make it into that is a specious argument.”

City officials say the elevation of Dubuque Street and Park Road bridge, near City Park, 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.

The project would cost an estimated $40 million, with $10.5 million of that federal money.

The city plans to start construction in 2015 and finish the next year.

The preferred alternative from city staff is to elevate Dubuque Street between Foster and Kimball roads to the 500-year flood level plus 1 foot. The other two under consideration are 1 foot above the 2008 flood and a foot above a 100-year flood.

Dubuque Street has been closed for about 150 days in the past 20 years because of flooding, according to the city.

Council member Jim Throgmorton noted that, according to city data, at the 100-year-plus-1 protection, the street would have been closed just six days. That option also is $8 million cheaper than the preferred alternative.

The preferred option for the bridge is to have a steel girder structure with its lowest point 1 foot above the 500-year flood mark. It would reduce backwater in a flood like 2008 by 9 to 12 inches, according to the city.

The first phase of the project was a federally required environmental review.

Last week, 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.

The Federal Highway Administration has preliminarily said there are no significant adverse effects.

Mark Pierson of the city’s project consultant, HNTB Corp. in Kansas City, Mo., told the council the Federal Highway Administration has not decided whether to follow the ACHP recommendation.

He also noted the city has held several public meetings and consulted local and state organizations on the project. Particular attention has been paid to historic aspects, he said, and they will continue to work with neighbors.

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