116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As funding comes together for the city’s $750 million permanent flood control system, residents in the coming years will see a marked uptick in construction of flood protection projects around Cedar Rapids.
Nearly 30 projects are slated to come online in the next four years, with design and construction underway throughout the city. These projects will add flood control segments around Time Check and Cedar Lake, fortify the downtown area with floodgates and other enhancements and bolster protection around the New Bohemian and Czech Village districts.
Rob Davis, the city flood control manager, said local, state and federal funding sources are kicking in, contributing to the increase in construction on the network of levees, flood walls and gates on the east and west sides of the Cedar River.
East side work by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to wrap up in the next three to four years, Davis said, but work on the system will continue for about 14 more years. Amenity items may be the only outstanding east side work, which the he said the city may not be able to start until after the Army Corps has finished their work.
Cedar Rapids officials had pressed federal officials for a decade after the community-changing 2008 flood for financial help in building flood protection. The city was threatened in 2016 by another nearly record crest of the Cedar River, and it was only though a herculean effort to quickly erect temporary protections that another crises was averted.
Congress eventually approved $117 million to complete east-side flood protection, of which 65 percent would come from federal coffers and 35 percent from local funds.
In 2013, the state Flood Mitigation Board awarded Cedar Rapids $269 million paid out over 20 years through sales tax revenues to cover roughly a third of the cost of the 7-mile flood system. Davis said fiscal 2021, the current budget year ending June 30, was the first year of ramped-up annual allocations to the city from $5 to the maximum $15 million.
And locally, in 2018, the City Council approved a 10-year, $200 million bonding plan to raise the property tax levy about 22 cents per $1,000 in taxable assessed value per year for 10 years — increasing the municipal levy from $15.22 to $17.42 over 10 years in order to issue $20 million in bonds each year. Davis said the city is now in the second year of that plan.
City Council member Tyler Olson, who chairs the Flood Control System Committee, said the pace of construction shows the importance of the council’s actions to identify a local funding stream to match state and federal funds, and to allow the city to keep up with construction of flood protection on the west side of the river.
As each new segment is built, Olson said that carries the benefits of permanent protection in case of another high-water event. Less time and financial resources are put into activating measures compared with propping up temporary protections.
“The more construction that people see, I think the more excited they are about the progress, but also the fact that when the city has said we’re going to raise property taxes by 22 cents and put it toward flood protection that it can be believed,” Olson said.
Projects that will wrap up this year include demolition of Shaver Road NE Bridge to make way for an elevated structure north of Cedar Lake, construction of a permanent levee and gate well in Czech Village, a 2,100-foot flood wall around Quaker Oats and a flood wall built into a new facility that doubles as a public restroom and storage space for events at the McGrath Amphitheatre.
Details for all projects underway, including a video presentation, are available at http://www.cedar-rapids.org/local_government/departments_g_-_v/public_works/projects_underway.php.
Here are some highlights for work planned in the coming years.
North segment: Time Check and Cedar Lake area
Northwest Neighborhood detention basins:
These will store excess water and slow it down to get it into the levee and pump it back into the river, helping reduce flash flooding in the neighborhood.
One was built north of the Northwest Recreation Center in 2019. More are planned south of E Avenue NW and west of 28th Street, north of O Avenue NW and west of Edgewood Road and south of O Avenue NW and east of Highwood Drive.
Davis said pump stations will be added, but those are mechanical. It’s better for the pump stations “if you can ease (the water) into it by storing it and letting it out in a more gentle rate,” he said.
Northwest quadrant road improvements:
E and F avenues NW eventually will be reconfigured to simplify the design at the intersection where First Street NW, E Avenue NW, F Avenue NW and the Interstate 380 off-ramp come together, and to also add a levee and pump station.
Before that work is done, Sixth Street NW will be extended to Ellis Boulevard NW — an $8 million investment to open connectivity and incorporate permanent flood control into the Time Check neighborhood.
Cedar Valley Nature Trail improvements:
A new levee and trail system will be added west of Shaver Road NE and south of McLoud Run. Davis said there will be a trail on top for pedestrian and bike traffic, and some fishing areas on the base of the levee by Cedar Lake.
The levee “will separate the lake so that the floodwater from Cedar River can't flood into the lake and that neighborhood, so that'll protect the lake environmentally,” Davis said. “It will segregate the rail yard from the recreational components of the lake.”
Completed flood control measures in this area will safeguard property threatened when the river backs up into McLoud Run and Cedar Lake.
Central segment: Downtown and Kingston Village
Tree of Five Seasons Park:
The Tree of Five Seasons sculpture will be raised and realigned to make way for a levee. The park will be elevated, Davis said, allowing for views of the Cedar River and shielding a permanent, full-height flood wall from view.
A bike trail along the park at First Street will add a connection running under I-380 from the west side to the east side and to run on the banks of both sides of the river.
Eventually, there will be new landscaping and tree plantings there.
Work will begin this year on a roller floodgate at First Avenue E, similar to the 16th Avenue SE roller gate. The street will stay open with lane reductions and on-street parking restrictions, and temporary traffic signals will be in place throughout construction.
As businesses and City Hall prepare to welcome people back indoors with COVID-19 vaccinations increasing, Davis noted the traffic disruption may be an inconvenience. But projects take several years to plan so it is not possible to pivot construction plans quickly.
“We want to make sure that people feel as welcomed as possible to get back in the building, so we're making sure pedestrian access will be available at all times to there, at least on one side of the road or the other, and have some parking put back,” Davis said — including temporarily allowing angle parking on part of First Avenue.
A removable floodgate will be finished this summer at Third Avenue SE and the road will reopen to traffic. A similar one is planned for Second Avenue SE in 2022.
E and F avenues NE:
Signals will be removed under I-380 before roller gates are installed there starting in 2022. Timing and phasing of construction is to be determined, but road closures will be required.
The intersections can operate as an all-way stop, Davis said, and before removal will operate in red-flash mode to help the public adjust to the impending change.
Eighth Avenue Bridge and riverfront improvements:
The bridge will be elevated 15 feet, raised above the 2008 volume to stay open during floods.
There currently are seven piers in the river, and Davis said six will be removed, helping remove obstructions that slow water flow.
This project will incorporate indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, complement the amphitheater and have a trail component on both sides of the river.
South segment: NewBo and Czech Village
12th Avenue SE floodgate:
Similar to the gate that rolls across 16th Avenue SE, this project will pair with intersection improvements at Second Street SE to make way for a roundabout. The bridge’s elevation means the west side does not require a floodgate.
The road will be closed to traffic but access will be maintained to the African American Museum of Iowa.
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library flood wall:
A concrete wall will span from the 16th Avenue SE gate to a proposed Czech Village pump station just south of the 12th Avenue Bridge, which will be the city’s largest pump station to date.
The project will include a raised, terraced yard to provide a space for the museum’s outdoor activities and to minimize the appearance of the flood wall.
16th Avenue SW floodgate:
This will be a roller gate paired with decorative archway, complementing the aesthetics of the floodgate on the east side. It will include landscaping enhancements near the Czech Village Clock Tower.
Davis said the city will close 16th Avenue in late September, avoiding traffic disruptions there during the summer festival season.
Other projects include an Otis Road SE storm sewer, a Czech Village underground stormwater gate and a levee added to NewBo Lot 44 between Ninth Avenue SE and 12th Avenue SE.
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