CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids, state road work on track for 2020, but could be slowed by COVID-19 fallout

Construction is seen underway on O Ave. NW just past the intersection with Koehler Drive in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, M
Construction is seen underway on O Ave. NW just past the intersection with Koehler Drive in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids officials believe they can tackle a robust slate of road projects in 2020 despite the impacts of COVID-19. But they are cutting back the workload by around 20 percent, and that scaleback could increase.

On deck are 30 projects — including overhauling a segment of O Avenue NW — totaling nearly eight miles of upgrades and a budget exceeding $16 million. This is down from the $19.2 million budget and up to 40 projects forecast this past fall.

“This year has presented the community with significant challenges,” said Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids public works director. “We wanted to look at the Paving for Progress projects we had in the queue and whether there was opportunity to shift a few things around to ease the burden on our commercial and business community.

“If we are able to reschedule some projects to lesson the economic impact on our community, we are absolutely interested in doing that.”

The scaleback is primarily to minimize disruptions to the business community, according to the city.

At the state level, the Iowa Department of Transportation is not planning delays at this time.

“We are looking at ways to keep our frontline inspectors as safe as possible by providing (personal protective equipment) as needed and emphasizing social distancing, such as one worker to a pickup instead of riding together to a work site,” said Cathy Cutler, an Iowa DOT official.

Cutler noted among the largest Eastern Iowa projects, work is ongoing on the Interstate 80/380 interchange replacement — worth about $300 million — as is work on the Highway 30 bypass near Mount Vernon worth $108 million. That project is wrapping up this year, while the interchange has several more years to go.

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The largest project — $1 billion for I-74 bridge work — was shut down this week due to a positive COVID-19 test of a worker, but the project was expected to resume next week.

Revenue predictions

In Cedar Rapids, the revenue stream that funds the 10-year Paving for Progress effort that began in 2014 could be compromised by effects from the pandemic.

Paving for Progress is funded by a voter approved local option 1 percent sales tax, which generates around $18 million a year in Cedar Rapids. With much of the retail and service industry shut down to limit the spread of the coronavirus, it’s unclear how much of a dent that will put in revenue predictions for road work.

“We are thinking about it,” said Doug Wilson, Paving for Progress manager. “We are looking at projects for next year. We always get an estimate from the state each quarter.

“If we start to see a decrease in revenue coming in, it could cause us to reschedule projects and may lead to fewer projects next year.”

He noted contractors have not indicated any intention of pulling back on projects, but questions linger about whether the construction profession would be affected by government-ordered shutdowns to limit the virus spread or if it would be deemed an essential service.

The following 2020 projects have been or may be impacted in Cedar Rapids:

• Sixth Street SW from Wilson Avenue to 33rd Avenue: The project is getting scaled back to only include the water main replacement this year, deferring the bulk of the road work to 2021.

“This will enable us to keep the road open to two-way traffic during the summer, reducing impacts to this industrial corridor,” according to a statement from the city.

• 66th Avenue SW from the CRANDIC railroad to Eighth Street: Has been pushed back to 2021.

• 12th Avenue SE at the Fourth Street railroad tracks: Under consideration for delay to ensure access to the New Bohemia District. The project calls for removal of old railroad tracks at Fourth Street where it crosses 12th Avenue SE.

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• Council Street NE from Collins Road to Blairs Ferry Road: Work in this commercial corridor also is under consideration for rescheduling to 2021.

Other work is underway.

This week, crews were working on the $4 million project to reconstruct O Avenue NW from 16th to 24th streets. The project includes pavement, utilities and sidewalk replacement.

This is the second year of multiyear effort to reconstruct O from Ellis Boulevard to Edgewood Road NW, with the final segment on deck for 2021.

Another major project under construction is on 29th Street NE near I-380.

This project includes replacing pavement and traffic signals at the 29th Street intersection, adding medians on 29th Street near the I-380 ramps and, later this summer, conversion to two-way traffic on Center Point Road between J Avenue and 29th Street.

Rathje Construction of Marion and Boomerang Corp. of Anamosa — two of the regular road construction contractors for the city of Cedar Rapids — are working on the O Avenue and 29th Street projects, respectively. They did not return messages seeking comment.

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

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