By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — The extension of Highway 100 under Edgewood Road eventually should bring more traffic to Peck’s garden center, at the corner of Edgewood and Blairs Ferry Road, and other businesses in this growing area of northwest Cedar Rapids.
That’s obviously a good thing, said Shirley Peckosh, part-owner of Peck’s. But a month into an 18 month construction project, delivery drivers and customers already are frustrated by delays.
“If it makes it easier for my customers to get to me, that is a good thing, and I’m pretty sure all the businesses around here feel that way,” Peckosh said. “But the question is, can we hang on until we get to that point.”
For years, this area has been sort of the unofficial edge of town, with Highway 100 ending at Edgewood Road. Now that the extension is moving forward, this intersection will be a key cog in the anticipated transformation of this part of Cedar Rapids.
The intersection physically is a linchpin in the $200 million Highway 100 extension that will run from Edgewood west and south to Highway 30 by 2020. Highway 100 eventually will connect the west side of Cedar Rapids and communities beyond, to north and east side destinations, such as Lindale Mall, Rockwell Collins and the city of Marion.
This Edgewood intersection alone will require an 18-month, $18 million overhaul to allow the Highway 100 extension to proceed.
Keeping roads open for business
The good news is, officials said, access to the destinations along this stretch, such as Peck’s, will remain open for business throughout the project. That was a core principle in designing the project.
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“Absolutely, we will make sure people still have access,” said John Vu, a construction engineer with the Iowa Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the entire Highway 100 extension. “There will be one lane open in each direction throughout the project.”
If one entrance to a business is closed, there always will be another way in, he said.
The bad news is that employees, residents and shoppers trying accessing this area will have their patience tested.
And there’s little solace planners can offer except to build in extra travel time and think about the potential this project is supposed to unlock in the northwest part of Cedar Rapids.
An emerging area
When Peck’s first relocated to Blairs Ferry Road in 1980, a few hundred yards away from Highway 100, there wasn’t much else other than a small church and the beginning of the complex that is now Transamerica.
Over time, the sparse area saw homes sprout up. AEGON USA, which later became Transamerica Corp., expanded its headquarters nearby on Edgewood Road where 2,000 people now work.
Hy-Vee and handful of restaurants, banks and other businesses opened later.
In the past year, the beginning stages of a multiyear, $34 million project with 45,000 square feet of retail space and roughly 200,000 square feet of office space — called The Fountains — has splashed on the scene to the northeast of the interchange.
“You are on the edge of the world,” Fountains developer Joe Ahmann said of the feeling about that part of Cedar Rapids. “I think it (the extension) will take that feeling away. By having a road go through, you are no longer on the edge. There really is life out there.”
Ahmann said potential from the Highway 100 extension didn’t dictate the location of The Fountains, but it should help draw interest during the seven-year build out, and for other development around that intersection.
Growth projections by the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization suggest a slice of Cedar Rapids from the Cedar River to Interstate 380, which includes this Edgewood Road area, could see a 50 percent jump in jobs and new residents — 5,419 new jobs and 9,392 new residents — by 2040.
Daily traffic on Edgewood Road in this area could climb from about 22,000 currently to 32,000. Highway 100 will see traffic rise from about 20,000 vehicles a day to 39,000, according to projections from the Cedar Rapids Community Development Department and the Iowa Department of Transportation.
“It could really help that intersection,” said Seth Gunnerson, a city planner. “It used to be the end of the highway, now there will be much more exposure.”
While this area is fairly developed, there’s still room to add density to existing developments as well as break ground on new developments, Gunnerson said. The biggest question mark is dozens of undeveloped acres to the northwest of the Highway 100 interchange.
“This is a location where there will be commercial interest, that is easy to access for commuters, and has potential for a mix of uses including housing,” Gunnerson said in an email.
This land is pegged for residential and mixed-use developments in numerous city growth scenarios.
Transamerica, which sold the land for The Fountains, also owns the land at the northwest corner. Todd Bergen, vice president of development and community relations for Transamerica, had no comment on plans for that space, but he did say the extension of Highway 100 will be good for growth, good for the area and good for the people that need access to Transamerica.
“As you can imagine, in the short term, this causes a lot of transportation issues. But that’s a short term issue,” Bergen said. “We are excited for the long-term benefits for our employees and the people coming to see us.”
Because the area already is developed, construction crews will spend additional time to make adjustments to keep lanes and entrances open throughout the project.
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“It’s more costly and time-consuming to do it this way, but we fully realize why it’s important,” said Cathy Cutler, a district transportation planner for Iowa DOT.
The main components of the project are the installation of a bridge to carry Edgewood Road over Highway 100 and what’s called a single-point urban interchange. The interchange design provides access to each exit ramp from the left and right, and maximizes traffic flow in a limited space.
To provide two-way traffic throughout the life of the project, Edgewood is being widened, and plans call for 23 mini detours, which mainly will involve short-term lane shifts.
Cars will have to pay attention to traffic cones to navigate through and be aware of shifts, Vu and Cutler said.
The biggest detour will begin in about two weeks and last for the majority of the project.
The detour will bend out Edgewood Road to the west to allow excavation of land and eventually the installation of a retaining wall, footings, structure and deck for the bridge.
The end product will include sidewalks to cross the bridges and accommodations for a future bike trail.
Other sacrifices include closing Ushers Ferry Road north of North River Boulevard to Blairs Ferry Road from June until August, Vu said.
While the Edgewood project is going on, crews also will be working on other aspects of the Highway 100 extension, including building a bridge over the Cedar River, and grading a four-mile stretch of Highway 100 that will reach Covington Road by 2018.
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Likely beginning this winter, Covington Road will be closed for about a year to install a bridge that will carry Covington over Highway 100.
During peak travel times on Edgewood, traffic may back up for three light cycles, amounting to about a roughly five-minute delay, Vu estimated. Vu added that the speed limit has been reduced from 60 miles per hour to 45 to ease the pace in the tight quarters, and traffic lights have been adjusted to give more time to get onto Edgewood.
With luck and good weather, Edgewood Road will be back to normal by November 2015.
“This is not just a game changer for moving people and goods, but it’s also a game changer for economic development,” Amy Reasner, a commissioner on the Iowa Transportation Commission, said during a kickoff ceremony for the project last month. “Remember this when you are stuck in traffic.”