116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Imagine the metro's northern edge in 30 years, when some 40,000 people live between Interstate 380 and Highway 13 between Boyson and County Home roads.
There may be more at-home e-workers, but most will probably still commute - most by car, some by bicycle when they can - to and from work, school and shopping.
For a look at how that traffic - up to 34,000 vehicles a day - will be handled, take a drive through northeast Marion on sections of a new Tower Terrace Road, cutting through empty fields as new neighborhoods creep closer by the year.
“It's pretty critical to us to get to Cedar Rapids and (Interstate) 380,” said Dan Whitlow, Marion's city engineer. “We're looking at the central corridor and trying to get that commuter traffic redirected.”
If today's plans bear out, traffic now going through central Marion would take a four-lane Tower Terrace Road between Interstate 380 and Highway 13. Tower Terrace would become a crosstown route over the next decade, although it's in early planning stages now.
Planners for the county and four cities - Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and Robins - identified the Tower Terrace corridor decades ago, said Dave Elgin, Cedar Rapids' public works director and city engineer.
“It is viewed as a critical transportation element,” said Elgin. “We've been reserving the right of way corridor for the area; we've participated in concept planning.”
The 40,000-resident estimate comes from a 2010 report on the Tower Terrace route by the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization, the joint agency that coordinates transportation planning among local governments. The report also has a cost estimate: $72.8 million in 2010 dollars for two lanes from I-380 to Highway 13, another $25.7 million to add two lanes in approximately 15 years.
The plan's conceptual route includes several challenging intersections and existing neighborhoods where a precise route has yet to be determined.
Marion built its two-lane sections on rights of way wide enough to accommodate two additional lanes along the inside of the present ones, City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said.
Marion has built the first of what may be three roundabouts - a.k.a. traffic circles or rotaries - at the 35th Street intersection. For now, the impressionist steel sculpture of row crops in its median is surrounded by for-real corn stubble, but new homes are within a few hundred feet.
Whitlow said the rotary is safer and cheaper than a conventional intersection, despite higher initial cost.
Chances of serious collisions “go down to about zero,” Whitlow said, “and the damage goes from severe to very moderate sideswipes.”
Instead of new traffic signals every 20 years at up to $400,000 a set, a rotary requires only yield signs, he said.
You can't get anywhere yet on Tower Terrace from the rotary, and a crossing of Indian Creek to the east awaits purchase of right of way and funding for a bridge. Whitlow said the city may apply for a federal grant for half the bridge's cost, estimated at $17.5 million. The city may spend $600,000 from its share of local-option sales tax revenues to buy right of way if the tax extension passes March 6.
Development in Cedar Rapids should see a jump-start at the future intersection with C Avenue NE, where Hy-Vee wants to build a store. The grocery chain's local project engineer told the City Council it wants to build a store at the site within two years.
“That will probably stimulate construction,” said Whitlow.
Les Beck, Linn County's director of planning and development, expects land along the corridor to be annexed as it's developed.
“From the county's planning standpoint, it's an area we have identified and fully expect development will occur, but it's going to be annexed into the cities,” said Beck.
The future of the west end depends largely on a proposed I-380 interchange. The state Department of Transportation is conducting a study to determine the need for an exit between two existing interchanges three miles apart. The report should be done in the fall, after a round of hearings to take public comment.
“Until then, we are kind of on hold,” said Hiawatha Mayor Tom Theis.
Corridor MPO Administrator Adam Lindenlaub said the 2010 report's population and traffic estimates don't assume an I-380 interchange will be built.
The Tower Terrace plans don't contradict Cedar Rapids' recent emphasis on infill development, Elgin said.
“(Urban sprawl) is more applicable to situations where growth kind of leapfrogs over the area and leaves some voids in between,” he said. “Cedar Rapids' growth has been continuous in terms of pushing that way. There hasn't been any leapfrogging over that. It's just now getting to that area.”