Government

Cedar Rapids flood system takes leap forward in 2019

Now with federal aid, city doubles down on making progress

Construction continues Friday on a flood wall and pump station along the east shore of the Cedar River to protect the Quaker Oaks area. Adding protection there represents the city’s largest flood system project in 2019 at $14.2 million. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Construction continues Friday on a flood wall and pump station along the east shore of the Cedar River to protect the Quaker Oaks area. Adding protection there represents the city’s largest flood system project in 2019 at $14.2 million. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A giant rolling gate across 16th Avenue SE, high-power water pumps, riverside memorials and a stretch of levee south of Czech Village are among key additions scheduled this year for the Cedar Rapids flood system.

Some projects, including a flood wall and pump station near Quaker Oats, continue from 2018. And early stages of design work are planned for the flood system through downtown and the Eight Avenue Bridge replacement.

“Eighth Avenue Bridge and the downtown area, what that actually is going to be, that is a huge choice,” said Rob Davis, the Cedar Rapids flood control manager.

City officials anticipate scheduling open houses this spring where people can provide input on whether downtown should have removable flood walls, what gate closures across bridges should look like and what the Eighth Avenue Bridge project should include. Should a pump station next to the bridge include bathrooms for the McGrath Amphitheatre, a river overlook, a restaurant or something else? Is a roundabout appropriate to solve congestion near the intersection of Eighth Avenue SW, First Street SW and Diagonal Drive SW near the police station?

The hope is to have designs for these elements 30 percent complete by the end of the year, although construction for these elements is a few years away.

“It is really important for us to honor the intent of the city’s master plan, which is not to wall us off from the river,” Davis said.

The city’s budget calls for a $35 to $40 million investment in flood protection in fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1, marking the first substantial jump. After years of uncertainty, the pace of construction should noticeably accelerate this year spurred by long-awaited federal aid.

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The budget for the city’s range of work, which includes construction, design, engineering, land acquisition and other fees, nearly doubles from $20 million in fiscal 2019, which ends June 30.

Last summer, Cedar Rapids was awarded $76 million in grants and $41 million as an optional low-interest loan through a federal emergency supplemental appropriation, adding a final leg to a city-state-local investment plan.

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

The overall system, which is designed to protect 7 miles of the east and west side of the Cedar River through downtown, is budgeted at $550 million today, or $750 million over 20 years.

When complete, the system would withstand volumes greater than the record-setting 2008 flood.

Policy makers are expected to be asked to make at least one key vote this year as it relates to flood protection.

The Cedar Rapids City Council last year approved the framework of a $264 million, 10-year bonding plan to pay some of the city’s share of flood protection. The bonding plan would rely on annual property tax rate hikes of about 22 cents per year. If the fiscal 2020 budget is approved in March, that could mean an additional $18 in the first year for the owner of an $150,000 home. The council also would have to vote to approve the sale of bonds later.

The public can weigh in at public hearings during regular City Council meetings during budget and bond sale votes.

Taxpayers would first notice changes in September 2019 and March 2020, said Maria Johnson, a city spokeswoman.

The city expects to work more closely this year than ever with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps would lead most aspects of construction at the north and south ends of the east side, while the city will continue aspects it has begun already.

The city will spearhead design and construction of the flood system through the downtown and will design other specific areas, such as a gate for the 16th Avenue Bridge and replacement of the Shaver Road Bridge over McLoud Run near Cedar Lake.

The Corps late last week did not have a budget estimate for its slate of work this year.

In some cases, such as a gate across 16th Avenue on the east side, the city will provide designs and the Corps will handle construction contracts.

A 14-feet tall, 59-feet long, and 2.5-feet thick concrete rolling door is being designed to roll into place in the event of high water at the 16th Avenue Bridge. It will rest in a track lined with gaskets to prevent leaking.

When not in use, it will hide behind already constructed concrete walls on either side of the 16th Avenue Bridge. The estimated $2 to $3 million project should begin late fall and would be completed in 2020.

As part of the project, 16th Avenue will need to be reconstructed — a city-led effort — to make the street flat rather than crowned, Davis said.

The city is taking the lead on installing additional pumps in existing pump stations in the Sinclair levee, increasing capacity to 7,500 gallons per minute; and in parking lot 44 near 10th Avenue SE, increasing capacity to 36,000 gallons per minute. That should be complete this fall would eliminate the need for temporary pumps in those areas.

Monuments honoring Ed Kuba, a leader in the Czech community, and Lee Osborn, a longtime city parks official, are expected to be installed this year along with two memorial benches on the Sinclair levee trail.

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The city’s largest project in 2019 is the $14.2 million flood system by Quaker Oats. Cranes were out last week working on the pump station.

An separate $6 million project, $1 million of which is being covered by an Iowa Department of Transportation grant, is needed to realign Union Pacific Railroad tracks and install a gate for the tracks. The Quaker section is expected to be complete in 2021.

On the west side of the river, a levee from Mount Trashmore and the composting site to the 16th Avenue Bridge should be visible by the end of the year. The segment is scheduled to be complete in 2021.

A Street SW is expected to be removed this spring, and traffic will be rerouted to C Street SW and a new extension of Bowling Street SW to reach Mount Trashmore.

The Corps is designing and expects to award contracts for a section from the African-American Museum of Iowa to the CRANDIC Railroad tracks near 10th Avenue SE and a segment protecting Cargill by the end of the year. Construction could begin in late 2019, depending on weather, but more likely in 2020.

Much of 2019 work will be out of plain sight — either underground, in enclosed areas or on drawing boards.

Flood protection construction on the east side of the Cedar River is expected to hit full stride in 2020, 2021 and 2022 with an estimated $50 million worth of work completed each year to meet a deadline of January 2023, said Jason Smith, the flood risk management program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District.

“This is a year we are working heavily on completing design and awarding contracts, and in 2020 people should see some substantial progress on construction,” Smith said.

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

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