Education

Roundabout by Hoover Elementary raises questions

School parents concerned about project's deadline and safety

Hoover Elementary School at 4141 Johnson Ave NW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Hoover Elementary School at 4141 Johnson Ave NW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Construction crews are racing the clock to complete a critical section of a road project where cars access Hoover Elementary School before school starts Aug. 23.

City officials say that while the road currently is torn up, a new roundabout at the intersection of Wiley Boulevard and Johnson Avenue NW will be operational by the opening bell.

“It was always going to be a tight timeline to get this done; it’s a lot of work,” said Doug Wilson, Paving for Progress program manager, noting contractors have been working weekends to stay on track. “They have been working at a high rate for a while. We are on schedule to have the intersection completely open by the beginning of school.”

Cedar Rapids has scheduled “mobile open houses” at 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Hoover, 4141 Johnson Ave. NW, in the parking lot adjacent to Wiley Boulevard. The meetings will introduce changes, safety and efficiency features, show a simulation video of how the roundabout works and offer drives on the roundabout with a city engineer.

The single-lane roundabout includes painted crosswalks, raised pedestrian splitter islands and pedestrian beacons that flash when activated by a push button, according to the city. The roundabout remains closed but will be available for the demonstration, city officials said.

Portions of Johnson Avenue will remain closed after the roundabout opens while the rest of the road project is completed.

Some Hoover parents are concerned, not just whether the road will be ready but whether a roundabout was the safest choice for the busy road so close to a school.

A roundabout also has been installed on Kirkwood Boulevard SW near Prairie Middle School.

Renaté Nickell, president of the Hoover Parent Teacher Association, said parents and staff observing how much work remains have questioned the timeline.

“There’s not positive vibes on the roundabout with where school sits and how school drop-offs and pick-ups work and how kids will cross the street safely,” she said. “So there are a lot of concerns; it’s a highly trafficked area.”

She noted several: Parents routinely stop vehicles in the road to drop off children, rather than enter the parking lot. While the city and school have held several meetings to convey information about the changes, those meetings were sparsely attended. A language barrier — she said children from 23 counties attend the school — may add to challenges in communication. And crossing guard positions have gone unfilled for several years, she said.

Crossing guard positions are paid and applications are available through the Cedar Rapids district at CR.K12.IA.US/employment.

“We are hoping for the best,” she said. “Change is good, but it is the learning curve that sucks. We always knew there needed to be an improvement, but as far as a roundabout, I’m not sure if it’s the best improvment. But I’m not a city engineer.”

The roundabout is part of a larger $6.5 million reconstruction of Johnson from First Avenue W. to Midway Drive NW. Travel lanes will reduce from four to one in each direction with a center turn lane, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, utility pipe upgrades, and another one-lane roundabout replacing the intersection with Jacolyn Drive NW next year. Final completion is expected in fall 2019.

Johnson Avenue sees 7,000 to 9,300 vehicles per day and has been crash prone over the years, city and state data show.

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Roundabouts are seen as safer by traffic designers, and city officials have said they would have eliminated 47 of the 65 crashes at Johnson and Wiley over 10 years.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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