Government

Busy Rochester Avenue in Iowa City to see reconstruction work next year

Neighbors persuade City Council to limit addition of sidewalks

Uneven pavement and deteriorating patches mark Rochester Avenue in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (Liz Martin/The G
Uneven pavement and deteriorating patches mark Rochester Avenue in Iowa City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A heavily traveled Iowa City street in increasingly poor condition is scheduled for improvements in the coming years.

Jason Reichart, senior civil engineer with Iowa City, said Rochester Avenue will be reconstructed from First Avenue to the Ralston Creek Bridge. Construction could begin as early as 2021 and finish the following year.

Reichart said the project will include removal of existing pavement, the addition of new pavement, some new sidewalks, utility work and water main and storm sewer improvements. The street sees about 7,000 cars a day, he said.

“The current street pavement has reached the end of its usable life,” he said. “It requires frequent maintenance. The pavement management program the city uses rated that street as ‘poor’ and in need of reconstruction.”

Original designs for the project included sidewalk infill in areas along Rochester Avenue. However, in community meetings and at a recent Iowa City Council meeting, neighbors expressed reluctance to add them.

Michael Hovland, one of several residents to address the council about the project, said adding sidewalks to Rochester Avenue would be “problematic” for residents of the close by and parallel Rochester Court, who would be responsible for maintaining them.

The project also would have removed “historic, mature trees.”

“With the city already losing 2,000-plus ash trees” due to emerald ash borer pest, “we didn’t feel that it made sense to unnecessarily lose those trees,” Hovland said.

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City staff said 30 of the trees were identified as being invasive species or having a “high risk of failure” and recommended going forward with the sidewalk infill and planting native species.

Ultimately, the Iowa City Council voted unanimously to change the design and add sidewalks only between Rita Lynn Court and Ashwood Drive on the south side of Rochester.

“The City Council did what they were supposed to do,” Hovland said. “They listened to opposing viewpoints. They made a decision that was thoughtful, fair and reasonable. ... I think everybody involved did exactly what they were supposed to do and did it well. It was a good example of good government at work.”

Reichart said elements still could include traffic calming and safety features, such as improved pedestrian crossings. The city has discussed a pedestrian refuge island with Regina Catholic Education Center staff in order to protect students and teachers there.

Shane Schemmel, communications and marketing coordinator for Regina, said the school is aware of the proposed project, but has not taken a position on the options from the city.

”We expect that whatever option the City chooses will provide the best safety opportunities available,” Schemmel said in an email. “The city is aware of our desire for pedestrian safety at various points along Rochester, consistent with our expectation that vehicle and bicycle traffic be routed in the safest possible manner.”

While vehicles should enjoy a smoother ride on the reconstructed Rochester Avenue and pedestrians can look forward to safer crossings, cyclists have something to gain as well.

Reichert said preliminary designs call for eliminating a center turn lane west from Rita Lynn Court and adding bike lanes. He said that aspect of the project was “well-received by pretty much everybody.”

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Assistant Transportation Planner Sarah Walz with the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County said cyclists frequently have pointed to Rochester Avenue as a corridor in need of more bicycle infrastructure.

“People have been asking for a long time just because it’s a heavily-trafficked corridor,” Walz said.

Reichart said $6.4 million has been budgeted for the project, which includes yet-to-be-completed design work. The project consultant, Snyder & Associates, will use 2020 to complete preliminary and final design work. The city also will use that time for property acquisition.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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