More time needed to convert one-way streets in downtown Cedar Rapids

Work now expected to take until 2019 and beyond

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Just as elected officials called to speed up the timeline for unscrambling the intermixed one-way and two-way streets confounding motorists in downtown Cedar Rapids, city staff say some streets could take as much as a year longer than expected to finish.

Traffic engineer Matt Myers provided updates on the progress for converting one way streets into two ways to City Council infrastructure and development subcommittees last week.

“People ask, ‘When are you going to get it done, when are you going to get it done?’ ” City Council member Scott Olson said during an infrastructure meeting on Tuesday. “I think there’s a desire to speed it up and if that takes looking at the funding issues or whatever, then that’s something that needs to come up.”

He and City Council member Ralph Russell agreed street conversions is the top issue they hear about from the public.

“One way street conversions, more than anything I hear from citizens, what I hear is, ‘Why don’t you just do them and get them done and not just two roads a year for five years?’ ” Russell said. “I hear lots of complaints from citizens that, ‘Every time I go downtown there is something different and it’s confusing.’ ”

Russell said he’d been telling residents the downtown conversions were expected to be complete by 2018, which matches the plan released during an open house this spring. New information disclosed this week points to 2019 or 2020 before traffic patterns are cohesive downtown, he said.

“What is preventing us from accelerating this and getting it done?” he asked.

Myers said each project has different circumstances affecting the timeline and budgets also are a factor.

“Right off the bat, we’ve been telling people we were going to try to have everything done in 2017,” Myers said of the Second Avenue work during a presentation to the development committee on Wednesday. “When the consulting firm, when we worked with them, started looking at working days and what the physical work is, it kind of got into the next year, 2018.”

The city has created a webpage for the conversions, which includes a map with updated timelines for each project. The map is available at CityofCR.com/Conversions.

In the case of Second and Third avenues SE, which have a hodgepodge of one-way and two-way sections, the city wanted to complete Second before launching Third, Myers said.

Second Avenue has more curb work than expected, and it wasn’t practical to squeeze it into one construction season, he noted. On Third Avenue in Wellington Heights, which has tight angles from connecting roads, staff wanted input from consultants to optimize the intersections and have a better product in the long run, he said.

Meanwhile, the city is pushing up the timeline for converting Oakland Road NE to 2018, followed by Center Point Road NE, and is not recommending converting 15th and 16th Avenues SW because of the likelihood traffic would overload 16th, Myers said.

“We think of them as a pair,” he said. “Traffic volumes would allow it. but right now we would leave it as is.”

The one-ways were once a critical tool to move people in and out of the downtown area efficiently, but as traffic decreased, a few years ago city leaders decided to return streets to two-way travel to make the downtown more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, a better atmosphere for shopping and safer.

Myers said progress is being made, and city officials later noted the start times of several projects remain on track but the length of time to complete them is longer than expected.

He noted the City Council approved budgets for two Second Avenue SE conversions — from Mays Island to Eighth Street SE and from 12th to 19th Street SE — worth an estimated $1.27 million during a June 13 meeting. Meanwhile, contracts with Union Pacific for railroad crossing arm projects worth $785,573 along the Fourth Avenue SE railroad corridor at Second, Fourth and Fifth avenues SE, which are intertwined with downtown conversions, are on the City Council agenda for next Tuesday.

Street Conversions

Here is a look at the current plans for a number of downtown one-way streets, as well as plans for railroad crossing arm projects:

One-way to two-way conversions

— Second Avenue SE from Mays Island to Seventh Street SE and from 12th to 19th streets SE, 2017-2018

— Third Avenue SE from Third to Eighth streets and 12th to 19th streets, 2018-2019

— Fourth and Fifth avenues SE from Third to Fifth streets, 2017-2018

— Fifth Avenue SE from Fifth to 19th streets, 2019 and beyond

— Oakland Road NE, north of H Street NE, 2018-2019

— Center Point Road NE, north of H Street NE, 2019 and beyond

Will remain one-ways

— 15th and 16th avenues SW

— Third and L streets SW

— F and E avenues near Interstate 380

— Seventh and Eighth streets near Interstate 380

Railroad crossing arms projects:

— Second, Fourth and Fifth avenues SE, 2017-2018

— First and Third avenues SE, 2018-2019

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

One-way to two-way conversions

Map by John McGlothlen / The Gazette

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