Government

Cedar Rapids reverses plans for roundabout near Washington High School

Nearby residents have been fighting the proposal for years

From left: Katie Hill, Steve Keane and Anne Salamon stand Wednesday in front of the intersection of Cottage Grove Avenue
From left: Katie Hill, Steve Keane and Anne Salamon stand Wednesday in front of the intersection of Cottage Grove Avenue SE and Forest Drive SE in southeast Cedar Rapids. The trio headed opposition to a proposed roundabout at the intersection. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — After lobbying for years against city plans to build a roundabout near Washington High School, nearby neighbors have persuaded the city to change course and keep the intersection a four-way stop instead.

Back in 2012, Cedar Rapids intended this to be the first traffic circle built on one of the city’s streets — joining a traffic engineering trend already seen in some other communities including Marion and Coralville.

But neighbors quickly called City Council members to object.

Those who rallied to stop the city’s initial proposal from advancing maintain that the traffic flow around the intersection of Cottage Grove Avenue SE and Forest Drive SE doesn’t warrant a roundabout — which often are unpopular with drivers and residents, while city planners say they are safer and ease traffic congestion, especially around schools.

Doug Wilson, the manager of Paving for Progress — the voter-approved program to fund road building and maintenance in Cedar Rapids — said the city changed course after taking residents’ feedback into account.

This marks the first time that Cedar Rapids neighbors have prevented a roundabout presented in draft plans from becoming a reality.

“The roundabout is definitely the best operational thing to do at that intersection,” he said. “It addresses the delay problem. But really what we got back from residents is that the delay wasn’t really that severe during the peak time, that they couldn’t live with it.”

While the dispute lingered on, the city proceeded with building other roundabouts. This one would have marked the third traffic circle near schools in Cedar Rapids, following a roundabout on Kirkwood Boulevard SW near College Community Schools in 2017 and on Johnson Avenue NW near Hoover Elementary in 2018.

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Wilson said the city agreed to keep the intersection a four-way stop because crashes do not occur there as frequently or with as much severity as they at the Johnson Avenue intersection.

Some residents who were vocally opposed to the roundabout said they appreciated the city taking into account feedback from the people who live in the area.

“Everybody is thrilled that they’re not going to be putting a roundabout there,” said Katie Hill, who lives nearby. “It’s just an awful lot of concrete, and unsightly.”

Mark Bailey, executive director of Cottage Grove Place senior living, which is located along Cottage Grove Avenue SE, said he is hopeful for the city’s plans for a complete road reconstruction there.

The city will begin the first phase of work in 2021 from First Avenue SE to Forest Drive SE. A second phase, reconstructing Cottage Grove from Forest to 34th Street SE, including construction of the Cottage Grove and Forest intersection, will follow in 2022.

Overall, Wilson said cost for the total reconstruction exceeds $2.5 million.

“We appreciate all of the times they have been upfront with us and transparent, and this is what our democracy is,” Bailey said.

The plan also pivoted from its initial design of creating a multiuse path, now calling for two parallel paths that separate those walking from those riding a bike instead of a single path for both.

This allows the city to narrow the road, help control traffic speeds and create a bike path that’s comfortable for all users, Wilson said. He also noted this roadway would likely be part of a future connection between the Sac and Fox and CEMAR trails, and that people may feel more comfortable using that trail if it is off the roadway.

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Hill called this a “disappointment,” as some residents say they would prefer the bike trail be moved to the street.

She and other residents said they remain concerned about the overall project’s environmental impact. They were mainly worried about the potential loss of a few trees remaining along the street after the Aug. 10 derecho destroyed at least 65 percent of the city’s tree canopy.

“We should treat these healthy trees like gold,” said neighbor Steven Keane.

The city had identified seven trees to take out to make way for construction, Wilson said. Then some of the trees were left in poor condition after the derecho, and now he said the city is looking at how to save two trees left on Cottage Grove near First Avenue SE.

“With every single project that we do, we make sure we try to preserve every tree we can,” he said.

Anne Salamon, who lives nearby, helped neighbors petition the city against the roundabout. She appreciated the city’s changes so far, but she and other residents vowed to keep pressing the city to minimize tree loss.

“You should be listening to the people who live here, who live in the area,” Salamon said.

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

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