• Tim Jamison
  • Mon November 25 2013
  • Posted Nov 25, 2013

CEDAR FALLS | Another public hearing on the future of University Avenue drew polarized views on the possible use of roundabout intersections and bicycle trails.

Iowa Department of Transportation officials held the meeting Tuesday at the Clarion Inn to get input on an environmental assessment covering reconstruction of the 4.8-mile stretch of University Avenue from Iowa Highway 58 in Cedar Falls to U.S. Highway 63 in Waterloo.

The 155-page assessment showed the proposed project would have minimal impact on historic properties, parks and schools but could displace up to 16 businesses and eight homes for required right-of-way.

But those speaking at the hearing were more concerned about the "preferred" design, which includes 11 roundabout intersections, reducing the road from six to four lanes in most places and adding bicycle lanes and recreational trails.

"I think it's going to be a big disaster, and afterward we're going to pick up the pieces," said Barry Ross, who presented a petition from residents opposed to adding roundabouts.

Business owner Jim Lown joined the assault on multilane roundabouts, which he said were proven ineffective in Wisconsin.

"This is the heart of the city," Lown said. "You wouldn't put a valve in your heart that doesn't work."

Others encouraged residents to keep an open mind about redesigning the University corridor to be more pedestrian friendly.

"We have the opportunity with this project to make a change for the better," said MaraBeth Soneson.

Allen Hays joined a number of residents who said replacing some signalized intersections with roundabouts and adding bike accommodations would be better for business.

"I think I represent a large group of people who support progressive change for our community," Hays said. "The last thing we need for our community is a status quo design of University Avenue."

IDOT officials said those are issues to be debated in the future.

The environmental assessment was designed to meet federal guidelines and clear the largest possible area or "footprint" for the reconstruction of University Avenue even though the final design may be much different. No money has been earmarked for the project and no timeline is in place for work to start.

"The final decision on specifically what will be done has yet to be determined," said Jon Ranney, Iowa DOT District 2 engineer. "From the DOT perspective, we have revenue shortfalls and we need to maintain the existing state highway system."

But Larry Wyckoff, an outspoken critic of changing University Avenue, said the Iowa DOT should forget about a reconstruction and redesign of the roadway, estimated to cost $40 million, and instead just replace 3 inches of the road surface with new asphalt, which he contends would cost $5 million.

David Little, assistant DOT district engineer, said a simple overlay is not a viable option given the condition of the road.

"It's not realistic to mill off asphalt and put more asphalt down," Little said. "The underlying concrete is rubble."

The environmental assessment and comments will be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for review while local officials continue to discuss how such a project will be funded.

Those wishing to review the environmental assessment and leave comments can visit the project website.

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