Government

Highway 30 bypass project brings challenges to Mount Vernon and Lisbon

Cites expect to grow to meet up with a new Highway 30 farther south

Work continues on a raised section of the new U.S. Highway 30 Mount Vernon-Lisbon Bypass south of Lisbon and to the east of Green Ridge Road in an aerial photograph on Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Work continues on a raised section of the new U.S. Highway 30 Mount Vernon-Lisbon Bypass south of Lisbon and to the east of Green Ridge Road in an aerial photograph on Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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MOUNT VERNON — When about 8 miles of a wider U.S. Highway 30 opens perhaps in 2020 and swings father south of the side-by-side cities of Mount Vernon and Lisbon, it will present both problems and possibilities.

The estimated $105 million bypass project will take traffic father away from schools and alleviate the frustrations of drivers trying to turn from city streets onto the existing Highway 30.

The bypass also will act like a magnet in drawing the cities’ borders to it. Both plan to extend to fill the gap — but with what?

The bypass is one segment of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s plan to widen Highway 30 to four lanes all across Iowa. Outside the cities on the Linn-Cedar county line, it will be a four-lane expressway with two interchanges.

The existing Highway 30, which cuts through the lower portions of Mount Vernon and Lisbon, will turn in a dead end — running between Willow Creek Road on the west to about Adams Avenue on the east.

The then former highway will be turned over to the local entities to become a city street, said Iowa DOT District 6 planner Catherine Cutler said in an email.

Crews have begun work moving dirt around the new site and building bridges. Paving will begin in 2019 and may go into 2020, Cutler said.

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“The purpose of this project is to provide a safe, free-flowing east-west route for the efficient transportation of people, goods and services,” Cutler said. “The project will improve the capacity of U.S. 30, improve local access and safety, and improve roadway conditions.”

And, city officials anticipate, the bypass will open up opportunities for development south of where existing commercial areas now are concentrated.

Lisbon City Administrator Connie Meier said the city is working on its future land use plan to incorporate the bypass.

“We’re hoping to grow the community by having developments up to the bypass, hopefully on the east side of town and south of town, and also incorporate some commercial business along the bypass,” she said.

Construction for the bypass project initially made it difficult for people to get from Lisbon to businesses farther south, such as the Sutliff Cider Company, she said, but noted businesses located closer to and within the city limits were not affected as much.

Rich Herrmann, a volunteer on the board of directors of the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group, said he thinks it will be tough going for a while after the bypass opens for businesses along existing Highway 30.

Signs or other visual appeals to drivers to come in to town off the new highway would be helpful, he said.

Cutler said the Iowa DOT will install signage for the cities along the bypass at the department’s expense.

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“We have to make it enticing for people to stop and take a breath and still be a destination,” Herrmann said. “We don’t want to lose that feel and that destination place that we’re starting to become known for.”

Being a “destination” in Mount Vernon is why Gary’s Foods owner Denny Dietrich said he does not anticipate the new bypass affecting his business much.

The businesses located right along the existing Highway 30 — which include Subway, Hardee’s and Dairy Queen, to name a few — may bear the brunt of the impact, Dietrich said.

“People are planning on going to the grocery store,” he said. “It’s the stores, businesses that are impulse ... I think they’re the ones who are going to be more affected by this.”

Mount Vernon Motel owner Beth Mhire said she thinks the bypass initially could hurt the downtown area.

“ ... With the bypass, they’re just going to go right on by,” she said.

But she said she isn’t that concerned about traffic coming into her business changing all that much.

“If people are going to want to stop, they’re going to stop anyway,” she said. “If people want to go onto Cedar Rapids, they’re going to continue going on, whether the bypass is there or not.”

Mhire said the bypass — even though it moves traffic farther away — eventually opens up the potential for the city to attract more people.

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Particularly important, Mount Vernon City Administrator Chris Nosbisch said, is ensuring any development that happens at the new interchange ties to the downtown area at the core of all major activity in Mount Vernon.

The city anticipates there will be a number of businesses seeking to locate along the interchange, but he said there have not been discussions with any particular company about being out there yet.

“The bypass area is going to create a new and different style of commercial district, but it’s imperative for us to make sure that we don’t allow the disconnect to remain,” he said. “The connectivity between downtown Mount Vernon and what’s going to occur out at the bypass has been our focus.”

The concern shouldn’t be about trying to develop land around the interchange all at once, Herrmann said.

He foresees a mixed-use environment of residential, retail, offices and green spaces being an ideal use of the area, though what ultimately will shape up in the space is undecided.

“Start small and keep focused on the overall design,” he said, “but let’s not try to turn that into a second city overnight.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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