Cedar Rapids eyes $6 million downtown lighting project

Lighting project could begin as soon as May

A street lamp outside of the CRST Center, 201 First St. SE, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, July 3, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A street lamp outside of the CRST Center, 201 First St. SE, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Monday, July 3, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials are proposing a multimillion-dollar project to replace old and in some cases rusted, burned out light fixtures and wiring eroded from the 2008 flood with brighter, more energy efficient and decorative lights in the core of Cedar Rapids.

The $6.3 million project would replace 570 aging light fixtures — the taller streetlights and shorter pedestrian lights — with 451 new fixtures. The lights will shine brighter so fewer will be needed. They also will be more energy efficient, and the fixtures will have uniform aesthetics adding continuity to the downtown districts, city officials said.

“I think people will notice the difference,” said Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids public works director. “And, I think they will like it.”

The City Council will consider a resolution to authorize the deal with Interstate Power and Light (Alliant Energy) to complete the work, which includes replacing poles, fixtures and wiring, when it meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE.

Work could begin as soon as May and take two to three years to complete, said Winter and John Witt, Cedar Rapids traffic engineer program manager.

The Streetlight Aesthetic Study in 2016 had recommended new lights and poles to “mesh the 19th and 20th century architecture with modern architecture mixed throughout the downtown area,” according to a City Council document. Pockets of the new lighting style already have been installed near the CRST Center and the Alliant Tower on First Street SE and on Third Avenue SW near Popoli Ristorante & Sullivan’s Bar.

The project area is in the downtown business district on the east side of the Cedar River to Fifth Street SE from A Avenue NE to Fifth Avenue SE; in the New Bohemia District from Fifth to Eighth avenues SE from First to Third streets SE; and in the Kingston Village area on the west side of the river on First Avenue W and Second Avenue SW from the river to Third Street SW and First Street SW from the Interstate 380 overpass to Diagonal Drive SW.

Maintaining the fixtures has become problematic, and replacement parts have become difficult to find, Mayor Brad Hart said.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Hart said. “In the long run it will pay off. Maintenance costs were only going up, and eventually we will make our money back paying less for electricity.”

Alliant owns and operates the rest of the city lights except some of those downtown, which have been the city’s property. As part of the deal, Alliant would take ownership and maintenance.

Council member Scott Olson said the city had negotiated with Alliant for two years before striking the deal. He lamented the condition of the lights as rusty and corroded with 10 percent or 20 percent of them out, and noted the underground infrastructure was in such bad shape that wiring had to be rerouted above ground in same cases.

“We don’t need to be in the lighting business,” Olson said. “We don’t have the equipment.”

Olson said he was unsure whether Alliant or the city would be responsible for updating the fixtures in 20 years when they start to wear down.

City officials had disputed a Gazette report three weeks ago about the lighting project being in the fiscal 2019 budget. At the time, city staff said Finance Director Casey Drew was “sure there is no funding for lighting included in the FY19 budget.”

Drew said via email Monday the project will be paid for as the work is completed, with road use tax reserve funds. The city will amend each fiscal year budget as the project is completed, so this project is not included in the city’s budget, he said.

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