116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Hiawatha City Manager Kim Downs said she feels the stars are aligned for federal funding to come through this year to help — finally — complete the hopscotch Tower Terrace Road.
In August, the Cedar Rapids metro communities will find out whether they’ll receive $25 million in U.S. Department of Transportation RAISE grant funding for the massive infrastructure project. The selection will be announced no later than Aug. 12.
Hiawatha, along with Cedar Rapids, Marion, Robins, Linn County and the Iowa Department of Transportation started earnestly in 2010 to plan for the project, which aims to connect a four-lane road from Interstate 380 to Highway 13, though the project has been an idea as far back as the 1960s.
Local leaders say completing the 8.3-mile Tower Terrace Road — which now has gaps in it — would alleviate some of the congestion along other east-west corridors on the north side of the metro. That includes Boyson Road and Blairs Ferry Road, which see heavy traffic during daily commutes.
In 2010, the Corridor Management Plan was adopted by the jurisdictions involved with the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which aimed to take the idea of a completed Tower Terrace and turn into a reality.
Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization Manager Elizabeth Burke said the project has a benefit of $18 for every $1 invested by the year 2050, according to an analysis done as part of the RAISE grant application.
“It’s based on the savings in travel time, crashes, property damage, serious injuries and fatalities, vehicle emissions and delay at at-grade rail crossings,” Burke said.
The federal funding could make a drastic difference in the project’s timeline. Right now, without the grant, the project is estimated to be completed in 2045. However, if the grant is awarded this year, the project could be finished in a decade.
The RAISE program, formerly known as BUILD and TIGER, is a highly competitive U.S. Department of Transportation grant. Of 9,700 applicants, only 680 projects will receive funding, with the maximum award being $25 million.
Burke said the remaining cost for the project is about $51 million, with an overall price tag of about $90 million. Last year, the project was awarded $5 million in federal appropriations, which were earmarked as a community funding project by Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, to help engineering work and right of way acquisition.
Right now, each jurisdiction has $10 to $20 million worth of projects remaining for Tower Terrace: Marion at $21 million; Hiawatha at $12.9 million; Cedar Rapids at $12.1 million; and Robins at $10.2 million.
The communities have applied for the grant twice before and have not received it. Instead, they received feedback about the application and how to make it stronger. This time, the application includes over 100 letters of support from businesses, unions and leaders in the community. Last year’s included about 20.
Downs said she feels like the third time's a charm. Her confidence comes from the letters of support, the cost/benefit analysis results and the project being shovel-ready.
“I feel positive about the chances this year,” Downs said. “The U.S. DOT project managers gave us great guidance. They want us to earn those dollars. They want good projects. We’re no longer saying ‘if’ we’re awarded. We’re saying ‘when’ we’re awarded. We have the ribs to Tower Terrace, now we just need the spine.”
This summer, representatives from all of the local communities traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and other officials to share the project’s importance to the region.
“This project is important enough to all of us that we flew to D.C. to meet with legislators face-to-face,” Hiawatha Mayor Bill Bennett said. “It’s worth fighting for the community. There’s going to be a lot of long-term investments in the north area that will give that area new abilities.”
Currently, the Iowa DOT is working on constructing a diverging-diamond interchange on I-380 at Tower Terrace. The project, at $22 million, is separate from the rest of the road’s cost and is being split among the state and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. The cities are contributing $2.5 million each and the Iowa DOT’s portion is paid by a majority of federal funds with some state funds.
The interchange project is expected to be complete in spring 2023.
“A Tower Terrace interchange was part of the original plan for I-380,” Iowa DOT Engineer John Lamping said. “But was delayed due to lack of development in the area.”
Infrastructure to spur more development
Hiawatha, Robins, Marion and Cedar Rapids are looking at the interchange and the completed road to bring even more growth to the already expanding north side of the metro.
“We are already seeing so much residential development off of Edgewood (Road) in the northwest corner of our city,” Hiawatha City Engineer Jon Fitch said. “The interchange will be a catalyst driver for economic growth. … Even in the last year, we have had a lot of interest in local developers coming in to talk about the land for residential, commercial and light industrial.”
Hiawatha’s population is about 7,300, but city leaders think that the population could surpass 10,000 by 2030.
“The growth is both commercial and residential,” Downs said. “The really cool thing with the interchange being constructed is it will really open up the Edgewood Road area. And housing development out there is exponential. I’m talking 800 to 1,000 new rooftops out there and that’s just Hiawatha.”
Nic Canfield, the director of business development at CCB Packaging in Hiawatha, said just the idea of the interchange was one of the reasons the company moved to its location on the corner of Tower Terrace and N. Center Point Road decades ago.
The company has 350 employees and sees dozens of semi trucks in and out of its business each day. Currently, the trucks have to use Boyson Road or come from the north to get to the company.
“There’s an absolute need for this on the north side,” Canfield said. “To finally see this being done and having that direct route over here for trucks, it’s really a total gamechanger.”
The major infrastructure undertaking is also expected to spur growth in the small metro-area town of Robins.
Chuck Hinz is mayor of Robins’ 3,500 residents and said he, too, feels good about the RAISE grant application’s chances this year. As a Robins resident since 1999, Hinz said he’s felt the project go from “something talked about” to “really happening.”
“It used to feel years and years away but that way out there is right now,” Hinz said. “We’re doing it and I think it’s important we all realize we are making steps and making good progress. It will happen. And that’s because everyone has been rolling up their sleeves and making it happen.”
Along with Tower Terrace, Robins also has its own decadelong development plan to go hand-in-hand with the project.
Last month, the Robins City Council voted to approve rezoning to allow for the first phase of a 400-acre, mixed-use development named Robins Landing. Work is expected to begin this year.
The development will be along the popular Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which just received federal funding administered by the state to complete the paved connection between the Cedar Rapids and Waterloo metro areas. City leaders hope new businesses like bars, restaurants, ice cream and coffee shops and bicycle shops will have trail access to draw customers.
Two bridges on Tower Terrace also need to be built in Robins. The cost is estimated to be about $17 million, with Robins responsible for about $7 million of it.
“Those two bridges, that’s expensive,” Hinz said. “So it’s critically important we receive the federal funding. That will go a long way in keeping this project moving forward. If we don’t, the question becomes, ‘what can we do as a group to obtain funding from other sources without pushing this back for years and years?’”
Marion and Cedar Rapids prepare
In Marion, non-residential development along Tower Terrace has already begun. The north side around Linn-Mar school buildings has been overwhelmingly residential, but the goal is to mix it up and provide northside residents with easier access to business.
“We’ve always seen Tower Terrace as this important artery that is needed to improve the connection between all our metro communities,” Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said. “As we’ve already seen, just the idea of it has created opportunities for development and business and as we complete the project, it will only create more growth to the north. It’s critical to have this grant to see the road become reality in its full form.”
The city built its new fire department headquarters and YMCA along the road. A new UnityPoint Health clinic opened this summer on the same intersection, adjacent to the two major city facilities.
Marion has miles of new road to build to connect to Robins and Hiawatha and to Highway 13, but its acquisition phase for the land was completed last year and now grading work is underway on the first phase to prepare for paving as soon as next year.
Marion City Engineer Mike Barkalow said working with the other jurisdictions on the project is essential in getting the project done in a timely manner. He said that coming together and providing funds for different portions is a big deal to get noticed by state and federal departments. It’s also key to them investing in the project.
“Doing this as a multi-jurisdictional project has been huge,” Barkalow said. “Robins doesn’t have the debt capacity to build two bridges and this project doesn’t succeed without Robins or any of the other jurisdictions. For example, we all threw money into the diverging diamond interchange and that was big in getting on the DOT’s priority list.”
Cedar Rapids has already seen growth with improvements to Edgewood Road and the connection of Highway 100 over the last few years. The completion of Tower Terrace would also provide the county’s largest city with more opportunity.
Cedar Rapids City Council Member Scott Overland said there are more entities looking to build there knowing the project is a reality.
“It’s really interesting if you contrast it with the Highway 100 extension,” Overland said. “We’ve already seen more hotels and big box retail to the west and certainly there will be additional development for the north now.”
The city is working on its design phase for the road and, like Marion, could start on grading this year. Cedar Rapids City Engineer Brenna Fall said that with the Tower Terrace project, there isn’t a lot of residential impact right now, so planners can take it slow until they learn whether the federal funding is awarded.
Cedar Rapids has a couple of projects and Fall said its schedule also will be dictated by right of way acquisitions. Those acquisitions will likely take 12 or 18 months, which Fall said is typical. Currently, no segment in the city is complete. Cedar Rapids’ portion of Tower Terrace runs from Council Street to C Avenue NE.
“We can take longer because we’re in the middle of a field, but when it comes to our work at the C Avenue intersection, we are going to want to get that done as quickly as possible so once that funding is in place, we can really get going there,” Fall said. “We are expecting construction of the pieces we have designed now to be done by the end of 2024.”
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