116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids is once again trying to secure $22 million through a federal grant program for the reconstruction of the Eighth Avenue bridge over the Cedar River — a key component of the permanent flood control system that would provide a lifeline connection for residents and emergency services during extreme flooding.
The city is submitting a RAISE, or “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity,“ grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation to cover about 40 percent of the $50 to $55 million cost of replace the bridge with a cable-stayed, higher-elevation structure that stays open as rivers rise.
“We think it’s a good fit because it’s not just a transportation element, it’s also about resiliency — hardening yourself against future floods because this bridge is really a flood control element,” city Flood Control Program Manager Rob Davis said.
When all other city bridges over the Cedar River close during extreme flooding and only Interstate 380 remains open downtown, Davis said this bridge would be key to allow connectivity for emergency services and residents. With 7.4 miles of flood control being built along the river, Davis said people need to be able to cross the river during major flooding.
Davis said there also would be bike trails on both sides of the bridge, benefiting those who do not own a car.
The bridge would tie together Cedar Rapids’ permanent $750 million Flood Control System — the river’s east side work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the west side, which is not eligible for federal funding under the Corps’ cost-benefit formula.
The bridge is partially funded in the city’s financial plan for the flood control system, covered through general obligation bonds and Iowa Flood Mitigation Program funds. The Iowa Department of Transportation last April awarded $1 million toward the project.
Receiving the RAISE grant would “free up” funds to accelerate another segment of flood control, Davis said.
Cedar Rapids has applied for the grant previously, including when the program was known as BUILD, but was not awarded funds. City staff were planning to meet with U.S. DOT staff Tuesday for feedback on last year’s application so the city can incorporate any comments into this year’s application.
Both previous submissions scored in the “Highly Recommend” category, the top category, according to City Council documents. In the highly competitive program, only 10 to 15 percent of applications are awarded funds.
But there is $1.5 billion in available funding for 2022 — a 50 percent increase compared with last year. President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law allows the department to invest $7.5 billion over the next four years in the RAISE program.
The bridge project still is in the design phase, and the cost estimate may shift, Davis said, as inflation is sending the price of construction materials skyrocketing.
Currently, the bridge has seven piers in the river, which back up water several inches behind them, Davis said. To get the flood control system permitted, he said there needs to be more free-flowing water. The new bridge will have only one pier, improving hydraulic efficiency and bringing the water surface elevation down.
There will be a 90-foot tower in the middle of the river with cables to support the deck. This is one of the narrowest parts of the river, Davis said, so “it’s really important not to constrict the flow at that location, otherwise it forces the flood control system to get taller.”
Few municipalities own cable-supported bridges, Davis said.
“We’re not doing this for the sole purpose of building a really cool bridge,” Davis said. “ … Because of the hydraulic necessities, we’re going to have a very interesting looking structure.”
Some preliminary work is underway to make way for the new bridge. For the next two years, crews will do advance utility work and sanitary sewer relocations. The fiber optics already have been relocated off the existing bridge.
For the bridge replacement itself, the city anticipates starting around 2024 or 2025, likely closing down the Eighth Avenue connection for about two years for construction.
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