Government

Two-way conversion on Third Avenue could disconnect roadways in Wellington Heights

One-way traffic and pedestrians cross an intersection on Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2016. . (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
One-way traffic and pedestrians cross an intersection on Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2016. . (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Third Avenue SE is expected to be converted from one-way travel to two-way this summer, which could change how people get around in the Wellington Heights neighborhood.

Third Avenue is slated to go from one-way to two-way from the Third Avenue Bridge in downtown to 19th Street SE in the Wellington area as part of two projects expected to cost around $4 million. It is the last part of a multiyear effort to convert all downtown streets to two-way travel.

“By going to two-way, we are adding a lot of points of conflict that weren’t there before,” John Witt, a Cedar Rapids traffic engineer project manager, said of the Wellington Heights segment. “Something needed to be done to improve safety.”

Plans could still change, but the latest version proposes disconnecting several of the side streets from Third Avenue — including 16th Street SE, 17th Street SE and Ridgewood Terrace SE — meaning vehicles would not be able drive from Third onto those streets. The project, which also includes pavement upgrades, is expected to go before the City Council for a public hearing and vote on the scope and expected budget in May.

The area is complicated as several of the intersections with Third Avenue include four streets converging at one point.

The proposed changes for vehicle traffic in Wellington Heights are as follows:

• Convert Park Avenue from one-way to two-way vehicle travel in the one-block segment alongside Redmond Park.

• Disconnect 16th Street SE from Third Avenue SE. Northbound 16th Street could still turn right onto Grande Avenue SE. Grande would still intersect with Third.

• 17th Street SE would become a cul-de-sac and be disconnected from Blake Boulevard SE and Third. Blake would still intersect with Third.

• Ridgewood Terrace SE would become a cul-de-sac and be disconnected from 18th Street SE and Third. 18th would still intersect with Third.

Sidewalks would maintain access for pedestrians and bikes in places where vehicles would be cut off. Grassy areas would be added to establish the separation of the streets no longer connected.

“The changes where we are closing access is due to safety of pedestrian, bikers and vehicles,” Witt said.

The proposal is the latest iteration of plans to accommodate the Third Avenue conversion. An earlier version disconnected most of the aforementioned side streets from Third and created a roundabout incorporating 15th Street SE, Washington Avenue and Third, but those plans were altered in response to feedback from neighbors.

Bob Grafton, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, and Bob Bembenek, who lives on 16th Street, are among those who had concerns with previous versions but are satisfied with the latest update.

“I’m happy with the revised plan,” Grafton said. “I think it is going to work for the neighborhood and the flow of traffic. It is a substantial change from what they were initially proposing.”

Grafton said he has concerns about how and whether neighbors would be notified of changes before plans are finalized. Bembenek said he is wishes the city would use the opportunity to bring the stormwater system up to date to avoid the sewer backups.

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Caleb Gates, who lives on Park Avenue, is among a handful of residents who still have concerns. He agrees the latest version is an improvement, but said he believes making Park Avenue two-way will encourage speeding by those heading from Third Avenue to Johnson STEAM Academy, which is at the corner of Park and 18th. It could pose a danger to children using Redmond Park, he said. And he has concerns about access for emergency vehicles.

“I am not convinced we will have safety concerns they say,” he said. “Because of the (low) volume of cars that use it, I am not sure it is needed. I prefer no modifications to the intersections.”

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

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