IOWA CITY — Some Washington Street business owners are breathing a sigh of relief. Others are nervous about a construction project now headed their way.
A phase of work to improve the 100 block of Washington Street is wrapping up. Another phase — now for the 200 block — is scheduled to begin Thursday.
Drivers can expect traffic flowing westbound from Dubuque Street onto Washington Street for the first time in months. But pedestrians and merchants should expect to lose — for now — street access, some walkways and outdoor patios in the 200 block of Washington Street.
“I think that it’ll make a huge difference that it’s out of the 100 block,” said Leah Cohen, owner of the Bo-James restaurant. “They’ll be able to maneuver around downtown much more easily.”
The public works project on Washington consists mainly of street and sidewalk replacement and utility upgrades.
Scott Sovers, senior civil engineer with the city, said starting Thursday, Washington Street between Dubuque and Linn streets will be closed for construction.
Sovers expects this final phase to last until about the end October, with a chance some tree planting may have to wait until next spring.
All businesses in the 200 block are expected to remain open during the work. While the street is closed to cars, city officials plan to shift pedestrians around safety fences to allow access.
“It’ll be almost identical to what we’ve done on phase one,” Sovers said.
Jeremiah Howland, the general manager of Quinton’s Bar & Deli in the 200 block, said employees plan to decide this week on what kinds of advertisements and specials they’ll offer to entice customers to come in during construction.
“We’ve been concerned about it from the very get go,” Howland said. “We’re obviously going to lose business.”
Quinton’s is expected to close its sidewalk patio much earlier than in other years because of the construction. Howland said the restaurant was fortunate that construction got delayed because it got in a University of Iowa home football weekend before the work on his block began.
The first phase of construction came in well behind schedule, as the original completion date was at the end of July.
Sovers said the area is very congested with water mains and utilities, so the work just took longer than expected.
Like Howland, Cohen noted the importance of football fans to her business. Although the completion of the work was delayed, Cohen said the downtown is settling back into where it should be for football season — especially with nice weather and the CyHawk rivalry this weekend.
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“It couldn’t be a bigger weekend coming up,” Cohen said. “We are just so excited that we’re going to have our street open.”