Government

Premature road defects has Cedar Rapids eying more inspection fees for developers

City may charge them for adding two quality control inspectors

Atlantic Drive SW is one of the newer streets in Cedar Rapids, and people were surprised when it started to deteriorate. “It got pretty bad pretty quick,” said Adam Kloos, who works at ABC Supply Co. on the street. This section, immediately south of Capital Drive SW, was photographed Friday. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Atlantic Drive SW is one of the newer streets in Cedar Rapids, and people were surprised when it started to deteriorate. “It got pretty bad pretty quick,” said Adam Kloos, who works at ABC Supply Co. on the street. This section, immediately south of Capital Drive SW, was photographed Friday. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Supporting development near The Eastern Iowa Airport, Atlantic Drive SW is one of the newer streets in Cedar Rapids — which is why it caught some by surprise when it started to deteriorate not long after opening.

“It got pretty bad pretty quick,” said Adam Kloos, an inside salesman for ABC Supply Co., 9800 Atlantic Drive SW. “There were a lot of big chucks missing, gaping pot holes. It was surprising because the road was fairly new.”

The road, which was constructed by a private developer, is in much better shape now after the city of Cedar Rapids invested $184,501 to repair the pavement and sanitary sewer infrastructure on Atlantic south of Capital Drive.

But such pavement failures have become a too-common occurrence, according to city officials, leading to a proposal for new inspection fees for developers.

The developers are responsible for putting in roads and underground utilities, such as sewer and water lines, as part of new subdivisions. Then the infrastructure converts to city control for maintenance and upkeep. However, premature failures have left taxpayers picking up the tab much sooner than they should be, according to city officials.

In some cases, the roads are falling apart just a few years after completion, said Nate Kampman, Cedar Rapids city engineer.

“We’d really like to be getting 35 to 45 years out of these concrete streets,” Kampman said.

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City staff conducted an analysis finding about 58 percent, or 35 of the 61 development-related projects between 2010 and 2016, had premature pavement failures, such as cracks or crumbling around manhole covers. By comparison, city capital improvement projects had a roughly 21 percent failure rate over the same time period.

While developers are required to follow city standards — the Statewide Urban Design and Specifications — one key difference exists between the public capital improvement projects and private development projects. The public projects, which typically are carried out by private contractors, are subject to routine city inspections.

City staff are proposing hiring two additional construction inspectors for quality-control testing, geotechnical testing and on-site inspections of the private developments.

“This is not the silver bullet,” Kampman said. “We still will have problems from time to time, but we’re definitely performing better on our (capital improvement) projects.”

The developers would be expected to pay an inspection fee for construction observation and material testing associated with the public infrastructure being built with their project. The cost to the developer would be capped at 5 percent of the total construction cost of the project, and all invoiced costs would have to be paid before City Council approval of the project.

City code already sets out that developers could be required to pay the cost of construction observation and material testing, Kampman said.

“This is actually already in our subdivision ordinance, but it is not something we enforce,” Kampman said. “We plan on moving forward and starting to enforce that.”

Several of Iowa’s other larger cities, including Des Moines, Iowa City, Bettendorf, Marion and Coralville, charge fees to cover construction inspection costs, according to Kampman.

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The developer currently is required to provide a maintenance bond of four years for street surface improvements and two years for water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer improvements. As part of the changes, the period would be set at four years from the time the council accepts the project for each type of these improvements. The bonds protect the city for a period from defects that might arise after construction.

Developers have been consulted by the city on the changes, and some have concerns.

While improper installation is one of the reasons failures occur, a variety of environmental and condition factors also are present, said Chad Pelley, business development manager for Ahmann Companies and a member of the Greater Cedar Rapids Housing and Building Association Developer’s Council.

He agreed discussion should occur about what is fair, and acknowledged adding inspectors is justified — but urged the city take time and get sufficient input.

“We don’t want to see failures, either, but as a developer, we are obviously concerned about how open- ended the check book is,” Pelley said. “People are nervous because development is tight and housing is not affordable. These fees are going to trickle down to the end user.”

The council’s infrastructure committee last month backed the plan, with members saying they believe it will help control city costs and lower failure rates.

“I think this is a very good idea and I think the way you went about it makes a lot of sense to help get the failure rate down over time,” said Scott Overland, a City Council member on the committee.

Council member Scott Olson questioned whether the city was communicating directly with contractors having the most failures.

“I think we sort of, again, we did not use names of contractors, but there were problem children out there, and my assumption is this committee will help us address those that are seeing more failure than others,” Olson said.

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Kampman told The Gazette the city did not document the contractors as part of its analysis and was not able to identify the most problematic ones.

“It’s not something we tracked from a contractor or developer basis,” Kampman said. “It wasn’t our approach to call out a certain one, but rather let’s get this going in the right direction.”

The council is expected to consider approving the changes during meetings this month and in June. If approved, the inspection fee and maintenance bond period fee would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

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

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