Stay away. If you can, stay away.
That was the message Saturday from the City of Cedar Rapids as emergency responders worked in haste to erect barriers, stack sandbags, and prepare residents in evacuation zones to get out before the water gets in.
Commuters who can’t steer clear of the city forecast to be inundated with floodwaters Sunday into Monday should be prepared to navigate a maze of “road closed” signs, orange mesh fencing, and barricades.
“It’s of the utmost importance,” said Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Mark English. “We just don’t need additional traffic because human behavior is people come down to see it and typically they don’t move very quickly, and so it’s very slow traffic. It really bottle necks things up for people that need to get some place because of an emergency.”
The city is working with the Iowa Department of Transportation to close exits off Interstate 380 by the end of Saturday. The plan is to keep open exits at Wilson Avenue SW and the U.S. Cellular Center and close those between.
“We do not anticipate 380 being closed,” said Public Works Director Jen Winter.
Still, English said, those who can avoid the Cedar Rapids area all together would be helpful to do so.
“Avoid it unless they have a reason to drive through town,” he said. “Don’t come just to see it.”
During the historic flooding in 2008, the state designated inside lanes on I-380 for emergency traffic only. English said this year’s highway congestion should be better because in 2008 parts of other nearby interstates — including 30, 13, and 80 — were closed.
“It really ramped up the number of cars and trucks coming through here,” he said.
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Within town Saturday, access to downtown rapidly dissolved as did routes across the river. By early afternoon, all downtown bridges were closed, in addition to 8th, 12th, and 16th avenue bridges.
I-380 ramp closures and restrictions:
Northbound traffic at the Fifth Avenue SW/Diagonal Drive SW exit will be restricted to emergency and construction vehicles only;
The First Street W exit for northbound traffic will be closed;
The First Street E exit for southbound traffic will be closed;
The First Avenue W exit for southbound traffic will be restricted to emergency and construction vehicles only.
1st, 2nd, and 3rd avenues are closed between Sixth Street W to Fifth Street E;
4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th avenues SE are closed between First Street SW to Sixth Street SE;
Eighth Avenue is closed from First Street SW to 10th Street SE;
12th Avenue is closed from C Street SW to 10th Street SE;
16th Avenue is closed from C Street SW to Fourth Street SE;
First Street NE is closed from A Street NE to First Avenue E;
Seventh Street SE is closed at Eighth Avenue SE to southbound traffic;
Eighth Street SE is closed at Eighth Avenue SE to southbound traffic.
If at all possible, the city is asking the public to avoid entirely downtown, the NewBo area, Time Check NW, and Czech Village. The restricted travel, officials said, is meant to keep residents safe and allow for flood preparations.
The city is prohibiting parking — even among volunteers — from Sixth Street SE to the river and between A Avenue NE and Eighth Avenue SE due to flood protection construction and materials.