116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A decadeslong dream of revitalizing Cedar Lake as the hub of a signature recreational project connecting trails and neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids is finally coming to life.
For years, the vision fueling ConnectCR — the grassroots group leading the charge to re-imagine the lake just north of downtown and construct a pedestrian-bike bridge spanning the Cedar River to the south — seemed shaky. Some questioned whether the volunteers could raise enough money to bring the infrastructure project, with a $20 million price tag, to reality.
It turns out they could.
ConnectCR team members Thursday shared finalized plans for a bridge design and confirmed all the needed funding is locked in to see the project through and break ground this fall at Cedar Lake.
Final engineering plans are to be completed for the bridge in summer or fall of 2022, with construction planned for 2023 and 2024. The ConnectCR project is slated to wrap up by 2025.
Mike McGrath, chair of the Connect CR implementation committee, said a recent anonymous $1 million contribution put the team far over the edge of its $7.2 million private fundraising goal, past $8 million.
That money is in addition to a city of Cedar Rapids commitment to the project of $1 million annually for five years, a $5 million Hall-Perrine Foundation contribution and a $500,000 state Community Action and Tourism grant.
“We are right on top of our budgeted goal, so this thing's a go,” McGrath said. “We've been saying that, but we're there, and we're there in all respects, so it's really exciting and just amazed … that the community has really rallied and put us in this position.”
Rising material costs and safety issues prompted modifications to the bridge near the base of Mount Trashmore, which replaces an old railroad bridge that was washed away in the 2008 flood. It will span the Cedar River, connecting the NewBo and Czech Village neighborhoods with a 23-foot-wide path free of vehicle traffic.
Cedar Rapids contracted with Canadian firm WSP USA for over $1.2 million to provide technical designs and engineering for new amenities at Cedar Lake, the pedestrian bridge and the connecting trails. This firm has done work around the globe, including design and construction of a multi-arch bridge in Vietnam that mimics a fire-breathing dragon.
Committee member Steve Sovern, who has been involved with earlier bridge designs, said one of the “pinch points” of the trail system within Linn County was the lack of an incredible pedestrian trail bridge.
“We set out to correct that problem,” Sovern said. “We also knew that it had to be an extraordinary bike and people crossing. It wasn't just a platform to get you to one from one side of the river to the other, and it had to connect our neighborhoods.”
The modified bridge design moves the tower to the west side of the bridge and closer to Mount Trashmore. This steel tower will give an industrial feel and support a cable-stayed bridge with a split deck below, which also will move to that side of the river with downtown Cedar Rapids as a backdrop.
To light up a darker corner of the community, the tower will have two lighting systems, Sovern said. One is an LED-lighted internal system, which at night will appear to twinkle and will have multiple color options. The external lighting will flow from the base of the bridge and illuminate the cables as well as the tower itself. This also can be lit in multiple colors to celebrate different holidays, for instance.
Informational panels honoring the area’s industrial and agricultural history, originally planned to be part of the tower in the middle of the bridge, will now be incorporated in landing areas on both sides of the river. These spaces have been redesigned and expanded, creating parklike settings near the entry to the bridge on both sides.
In addition to the bridge, Cedar Lake’s transformation will include a boardwalk extending over the 120-acre lake and handicap-accessible piers. Project plans also involve preserving wetlands on the north shore, adding paddle sport launch locations, floating islands and a nature-based playground.
For Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd, chair of the city’s internal ConnectCR work group, this news was a welcome birthday present — he turned 64 Thursday.
“This has been a community vision of people that came a long time before us,” Todd said. “We were just the ones that were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to be able to implement it … This is going to become a nice urban fishery that is accessible to everybody and free to everybody, right in the heart of the city.”
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