Government

Sales taxes paid for $21 million in Cedar Rapids street work this year

Work wraps up on Mount Vernon Road SE improvements near Hy-Vee

Employees from City Wide Construction and Croell Inc. work Nov. 1 on paving Mount Vernon Road SE in Cedar Rapids at the entrance to the Hy-Vee Food Store. The $2 million Paving for Progress project at the hazardous intersection is expected to be completed this week. The project added a new traffic signal at 40th Street SE, reconfigured travel lanes and a new shared access road to Mercy and Hy-Vee. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Employees from City Wide Construction and Croell Inc. work Nov. 1 on paving Mount Vernon Road SE in Cedar Rapids at the entrance to the Hy-Vee Food Store. The $2 million Paving for Progress project at the hazardous intersection is expected to be completed this week. The project added a new traffic signal at 40th Street SE, reconfigured travel lanes and a new shared access road to Mercy and Hy-Vee. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The entry to Hy-Vee Grocery and MercyCare Vernon Village on Mount Vernon Road SE had been a hazard for some time, but after enduring a road construction season of detours, traffic is getting back to normal with a new and improved intersection.

The construction made for some trying months for staff and patients trying to access MercyCare, said Greg DeWolf, vice president of clinic operations for MercyCare. It required additional communication to ensure clients could still find the clinic, and patience for late arrivals, but the end result should be worth it, he said.

“I think the real benefit will be the safety,” DeWolf said. “When you come out and turn left (onto Mount Vernon Road), there were a lot accidents. By having the access road, I think it will reduce collisions. I think it will be great for the clinic.”

He said the clinic urged the city to add the traffic light.

The $2 million project, where traffic is expected to return to normal this week, added a new traffic signal at 40th Street, reconfigured travel lanes and a new shared access road to Mercy and Hy-Vee. An Iowa Department of Transportation traffic safety improvement grant provided $500,000 toward the cost.

It was one of the top investments in the 2019 edition of the 10-year Paving for Progress street repair initiative, which wrapped up this month.

Dan Alpers, 43, has lived off Mount Vernon Road his whole life and works at the Hy-Vee garden center and shops at the grocer as well.

He recalls working on several occasions and hearing a collision and hustling toward the roadway to see what had happened.

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“It was absolutely accident-prone,” Alpers said. “The left turn out of Hy-Vee was treacherous. A lot of trucks use it as an inlet into town. It was rough during construction, I’ve always known something had to be done and it would be a benefit.”

Doug Wilson, Cedar Rapids Paving for Progress manager, said the location had seen 22 crashes since 2015. The improvements, he said, will encourage better traffic flow, easier access to Hy-Vee and MercyCare, and fewer accidents.

$101 million to date

The sixth year of Paving for Progress — paid for with a 1 percent local-option sales tax approved by voters in 2013 — was the most productive year yet as far as roadway miles tackled, according to the city of Cedar Rapids.

More than 15 linear miles of roadway improvements were completed as part of 47 projects on residential and arterial roads, according to the city.

In fiscal 2019, $19.2 million was generated through the sales tax and $21.8 million was spent.

Overall, $101.1 million has been collected since the tax took effect in fiscal 2014, while expenses have clocked in at $101.2 million to date, according to the Cedar Rapids finance department.

The program has upgraded 58.3 miles or road through 180 projects, split 69 percent on residential roads and 31 percent on arterial.

2019 projects

Highlights of the 2019 program include:

• Completion of the $5.75 million, two-year Johnson Avenue project — from Midway Drive to First Avenue NW — which included roadway reconstruction, utilities, sidewalk and a roundabout at Wiley Boulevard and Jacolyn Drive. Traffic returned to normal in September.

• At $2.5 million project to convert E Avenue NW — from the Highway 100 extension to Stoney Point Road NW — from rural to urban, with upgraded road surface, curbs, gutters and sidewalks and two roundabouts.

• Complete reconstruction of Council Street NE from Collins Road to south of 46th Street NE near Noelridge Park’s entrance. The $1.8 million project featured utility and pedestrian access improvements. The street reopened in October.

Collins Road

The $8.1 million Collins Road expansion begun in 2018 — not paid for with Paving for Progress dollars — also was finished this year.

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This year, work focused on pavement work and new travel lanes — one eastbound and one westbound — and turn lanes at the Lindale Mall-Collins Crossing shopping centers.

The full project stretches from just east of Northland Avenue to Twixt Town Road NE. It has added sidewalks, new traffic signals and stormwater management.

Tax expires in 2023

As the Paving for Progress program has evolved, the city has become better at stretching dollars further, said Wilson, the program’s manager.

The city is handling some Paving for Progress jobs internally while outsourcing jobs such as pavement removal since the city doesn’t own such equipment, he said.

Microsurfacing is another new technique in which a sealant is applied to asphalt to extend its life by several years, he said.

“The goal is to expand the amount of work we can do and to spend the money as wisely as possible,” Wilson said.

The paving sales tax is set to expire in 2023, and some elected officials have discussed the likelihood of asking voters to extend it.

Wilson said the possible expiration of the funding has, at this point, changed how the city is approaching the projects they take on.

2020 plans

Heading into 2020, Wilson said, the city expects to take on another 30 to 40 individual road projects and spend around $19.2 million.

The slate still is being developed, but a few larger projects are locked in.

Highlights for 2020 include:

• Work is expected to resume on O Avenue. A $4 million investment on O Ave NW — from 16th to 24th streets — would include full reconstruction, including pavement, utilities and sidewalk replacement. Work began on O Avenue from Ellis Boulevard to 16th Street in 2018, and then no work in 2019. The project is expected to wrap up in 2021 with a final segment from 24th Street to Edgewood Road.

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• A $4 million investment is planned for Sixth Street SW — from Wilson Avenue to 33rd Avenue — with pavement, water main improvements and a “road diet,” in which lanes transition from two in each direction, to one in each direction with a center turn lane. A sidewalk would be added in 2021.

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

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