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Construction starts Monday on projects for Cedar Rapids flood control system

Five projects underway this year

Construction continues Thursday on the McGrath Amphitheatre flood wall in southwest Cedar Rapids. The project is expecte
Construction continues Thursday on the McGrath Amphitheatre flood wall in southwest Cedar Rapids. The project is expected to be complete by spring 2021. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A disruptive pandemic and destructive derecho haven’t put a stop to the work on five projects building toward Cedar Rapids’ $750 million flood control system.

Work on a new facility providing restrooms and event storage at the McGrath Amphitheatre, a giant rolling gate across 16th Avenue SE and a stackable gate downtown, a stretch of levee in NewBo and a flood wall guarding Quaker Oats will carry construction crews into the beginning of 2021.

The city’s budget calls for spending $45.6 million on flood protection in fiscal 2021, which ends June 30 — a boost of $7.7 million over fiscal 2020. That investment adds to the $93 million the city has spent on flood control since 2014.

As of March 31, the Army Corps of Engineers has spent $15 million of its total cost share portion of $76.4 million after federal aid finally was approved in 2018 — a decade after a historic flood inundated some 10 square miles of the city.

The federal money applies only to approved sections of the $250 million east side system, not the west side of the river.

Here are the five projects underway for the remainder of this year:

Third Avenue SE

Work is set to begin Monday on a floodgate downtown that is designed to protect to the 2008 flood volume.

Once complete in summer 2021, the floodgate will feature stackable, removable panels that slide into permanent columns on the sidewalk when there is risk of flooding.

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Construction will include installing the foundation and vertical columns that will hold the removable panels, which will be stored off-site. Much of the structure will be underground, not visible from the street.

Rob Davis, the city flood control manager, said the gates will need to be assembled on-site and will take six to eight hours to prepare in a flood event. To avoid working right up against the rising waters, he said crews would allow a full day to assemble the gate.

Staff are working on writing into the system’s operations manual how varying projected river elevation levels would trigger crews to assemble different types of closures.

With buildings on both sides of the avenue, he said there isn’t a sensible place for a swinging or rolling gate, and pulling a gate out of the pavement wouldn’t work because of the bridge locations leading into town.

Second Avenue SE also will receive this type of gate, Davis said.

While construction is underway, Third Avenue SE from First Street SE to the Cedar River will be closed to vehicular, cyclist and pedestrian traffic. People may access the CRST/Bankers Trust driveway on Third Avenue SE via First Street SE.

Parking on the Third Avenue Bridge will remain open from the west.

16th Avenue SE

While the other projects planned for 2020 are all locally bid, this project is bid and administered by the Corps, allowing the city to redirect dollars to other portions of the 20-year flood control project, which will span 7 miles.

The Corps began work in April on a 4-foot thick, 14-foot tall, 67-foot long floodgate to protect the New Bohemia business district near downtown.

The floodgate will hide behind a flood wall and roll into place across the eastern approach to the 16th Avenue Bridge when the Cedar River’s waters rise, locking into place between two permanent posts.

That gate can close in less than an hour and will be stored on-site.

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The gate is slated to be complete by November, Davis said. City officials are planning a similar gate on the west side of the bridge.

Lot 44 in NewBo

This levee will stretch through parking lot 44 on the east side of the Cedar River between Ninth Avenue SE to 12th Avenue SE, helping close gaps to protect that segment of town from rising waters.

Parking will be restricted during construction, which is expected to be done by spring 2021.

Davis said this levee, already built to full height, helps the city “get a lot more bang for our buck” by limiting the temporary flood protection measures the city needs to put in place.

“Every piece of flood control that we can get in, that’s fewer HESCO barriers like we had to do in 2016,” Davis said, referring to the sand-filled barriers that were erected around town in just days to help stave off a near-record river crest. “We can deploy our resources to fighting floods elsewhere.”

Amphitheater wall

The McGrath Amphitheatre flood wall will be ready by spring 2021 with a much-enhanced experience for patrons.

A multifunctional portion of flood wall will be ready for the summer amphitheater season, containing storage space on the first level and restrooms on the second.

This will eliminate the need for portable toilets and storage trailers outside the amphitheater, Davis said.

“We’re presuming that things will be back to normal and that the amphitheater will be used next year,” Davis said. “From the standpoint of construction, with fewer shows and cancellations, it’s actually helped that project stay on schedule. We haven’t had to work around as many shows this year.”

Quaker Oats wall

Work to build 2,000 feet of the flood wall and pump station at Quaker Oats is slated to be finished in May 2021.

When that is done, Davis said the contractor will start on the final phase of work completing the railroad closure gate at the Cedar River in fall 2021.

That will complete work on Quaker Oats’ property, the first major permanent flood protection for downtown.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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