Business

Busy Collins Road in thick of construction, changes

Some nearby businesses see lulls as $9.6 million project ramps up

Traffic moves along Collins Road as work continues in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic moves along Collins Road as work continues in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, May. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Motorists on Collins Road NE are encountering the first stages of a multiyear road widening project to enhance the experience on one of Cedar Rapids’ busiest roads.

Collins Road is being widened to three lanes from just east of Northland Avenue to Twixt Town Road. This has been in discussion for years and is now in the thick of construction, which got underway in March.

“This is a very important commercial corridor in our city for dining, shopping, and we have some important businesses there,” said Nate Kampman, Cedar Rapids city engineer. “This will make it easier to get in and out of them and make it more enjoyable to be in the area.”

Collins Road in this area sees about 30,000 vehicles per day and is home to several shopping centers including Lindale Mall, Collins Crossings and Collins Square, and is near the city’s largest employer, Rockwell Collins.

The project is designed to ease congestion, upgrade the aging pavement and traffic signals, spruce up aesthetics, make it to easier to get in and out of shopping centers, increase access for bikes and pedestrians, and improve stormwater management.

The work is expected to take two construction seasons.

Some retail and restaurant owners and managers are fretting the toll the lengthy project could take as road construction generally is a turnoff to customers, they said. In addition, the pending closure of Younkers and Sears at Lindale Mall could take another bite out of traffic volume, they said, and the sale of Rockwell Collins leaves another set of question marks.

“People need to remember, if they want us after construction they need to support us during construction,” said Stacy Wolrab, owner of scrapbook store Scrapmania, at 221 Collins Road NE.

City officials have prioritized minimizing disruptions.

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Lane closures will occur throughout construction, but business access will be protected throughout as will at least one lane of traffic in each direction.

Lane restrictions will not occur during the holiday season in November and December, and full road closures will be scheduled for overnights.

The first construction season will focus on underground work, while year two will tackle much of the pavement resurfacing, noted Justin Holland, engineering construction manager.

An earlier version of the project called for bridging Collins over a lowered Lindale Drive, but the plan was abandoned as costs ballooned to more than $12 million and the project timeline stretched to three years.

‘Pretty painful’

Teagan Vizecky, a manager at Happy Joe’s, 5070 Lindale Dr. NE, attributed recent business lulls during normally active times to road construction. Vehicles are taking short cuts through parking lots to avoid Collins, while others stay away all together, Vizecky said. But, she added, Happy Joe’s still get rushes, so customers still can get there.

Traci Olson, a manager at nearby Earl May, 5155 Northland Ave. NE, said the project is needed. Eastbound traffic backs up through multiple traffic lights approaching the mall, and it’s especially bad around Christmas, she said.

Still, she questioned whether the widening will be needed with the loss of Sears and Younkers.

“Given the potential for the loss of traffic, I am not sure how much traffic (the project) will alleviate,” she said.

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Kampman said the departure of Sears and Younkers may cause short term reductions in traffic volume, but long-term traffic impact will be “negligible in our analysis,” he said, noting those properties are expected to be filled.

Road work, which included eastbound traffic merged into one lane, did not keep Jack Baker, 74, of Cedar Rapids, from the area on Wednesday. Baker, who was heading to Home Depot, described the commute as “pretty painful,” but anticipates the road will be better off when it is finished.

“Construction can be a little chaotic, but they set up enough stuff to let you know what’s going on,” Baker said.

The improvements are a joint effort between the city of Cedar Rapids and the Iowa Department of Transportation, which is involved because Collins Road doubles as Highway 100, a state highway.

The city awarded Pirc-Tobin Construction of Alburnett the $7.4 million construction contract this year.

Eight federal and state grants — including for safety and clean air — have covered about three-quarters of project costs totaling $9.6 million, which includes the construction contract, design and right of way acquisition.

In addition to widening, the project also will add designated turn lanes on access roads to Collins Crossing and Lindale Mall, 10-foot wide sidewalks on both sides Collins and the crossroads, and remove the frontage road north of Collins Road, which had not operated effectively, Kampman said.

Since the 1990s, the long-term plan had been to widen Collins from just east of First Avenue E to the Interstate 380 access ramps near Center Point Road NE.

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Work around the intersection with First Avenue had been completed in 2009, leaving work west of the current project area as the next phases.

Kampman said the next phase is not likely to begin right away because the city and the Iowa DOT are still discussing what is needed.

“There is some question if the predictions from the model are too high given most of the corridor is built up,” said Cathy Cutler, a transportation planner with the District 6 office of the Iowa DOT. “Also they have added more advanced traffic signals and monitor the flow and can adjust them from their desks now.

“Things like changes at Lindale Mall and maybe at Rockwell could be influencers as well.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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