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Cities await information on proposed new interchange

North Liberty, Tiffin consider road upgrades as Iowa DOT plans interchange projects

NORTH LIBERTY– The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has much to work out with the cities of North Liberty and Tiffin.
DOT officials hosted an open house Wednesday, Nov. 18, in North Liberty to answer questions about a proposed new interchange at Interstate 380 and Forevergreen Road. About 100 people attended the meeting.
Since Forevergreen Road east of I-380 and Park Road to the west are both gravel, DOT officials have indicated local roads will need to be paved to accommodate traffic from the new interchange. North Liberty controls the north side of Forevergreen Road, to the east, while Coralville controls the southern portion of the road. Tiffin has jurisdiction of North Park Road and the area to the north and west of the proposed new interchange.
The Forevergreen Road project is integral to the planned major reconstruction at the I-380 and I-80 interchange to the south. Traffic at that intersection has increased to the point the current configuration is no longer sufficient to safely carry the traffic load. There were 477 crashes at the major interchange between 2004 and 2014, six of which resulted in fatalities. According to DOT documents, several of those crashes involved semis hauling freight, precipitating rollovers and requiring safety personnel to close the loop ramps for debris cleanup. Changing the loop ramps to directional ramps is intended to alleviate both problems, and additional lanes will be added to both I-80 and I-380 to accommodate heavier traffic volumes.
The project, estimated to cost around $300 million, was placed on the DOT’s 2016-2020 Transportation Improvement Program in fiscal year 2009. Major construction and closures are expected to begin in July 2019 and continue for several years.
Though a separate project, a new interchange at Forevergreen Road off I-380 is important to the I-80/I-380 work. DOT officials maintain that Forevergreen Road is not intended to be a detour, but will provide a route to divert traffic from the south during emergency incidents. Construction on the interchange was initially scheduled to begin in 2019, but the DOT hopes to move it up to begin in the 2017 construction season for completion in August 2018.
The project is currently in the development for federal funding participation by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Iowa DOT, funding that is expected to cover only the cost of the interchange work itself. According to DOT Transportation Planner Cathy Cutler, the preliminary cost estimate for the interchange project is $14.5 million.
The DOT has asked municipalities to cover the expense of upgrading their local roads.
In North Liberty, that means paving the stretch of Forevergreen Road from Jones Boulevard to I-380, a project with a potential cost of $8 million, according to Cutler.
In September, DOT District 6 Field Engineer Newman Abuissa told the North Liberty City Council a gravel surface was not acceptable as a connector to I-380.
But a Forevergreen Road upgrade is not in North Liberty’s five-year Capital Improvements Plan (CIP); it doesn’t appear in the city’s long-range plan until years 2021 to 2030.
At the North Liberty City Council’s Nov. 17 budget work session, the council and City Administrator Ryan Heiar balked at paying for upgrades sooner.
“We have made it very clear that Forevergreen Road is not in our CIP, and we have put a lot of our resources on the east side of our community where the new high school is being built,” Heiar told the council. “To expect us to pick up the tab is going to be difficult.”
Heiar said the DOT is preparing a cost estimate on the city’s share of paving Forevergreen Road, but additional discussions with Coralville will be necessary because drivers coming off I-380 could go all the way to Highway 965, which would also require upgrades to handle additional traffic.
“It’s my opinion that we should not be adjusting our plan to accommodate this right now,” Heiar added. “We have our own priorities.”
He said one option could be to ask the DOT to front the cost of paving Forevergreen Road and allow North Liberty to pay it back over time.
“In which case, I would expect some very favorable terms,” Heair added.
Similarly, the City of Tiffin had not planned to pave all of North Park Road any time soon, but on Nov. 11, the council directed City Engineer Ben Carthoff to prepare a cost estimate for design work for full urbanization of the road, with pavement, curb and gutter, all the way to Forevergreen Road.
At the I-80/I-380 interchange near Tiffin, a replacement bridge will be constructed on Park Road over I-80, and Kansas Avenue will be relocated to the south and provide access to residents– improvements paid by the DOT. The expense of paving North Park Road has been discussed at the council level in Tiffin, though Tiffin City Administrator Doug Boldt said no terms have been presented yet.
“The city has been in contact with (DOT engineer) Newman Abuissa several times about the plans and impact of the project, but participation is not really something we’ve talked specifically about,” Boldt said Monday. “We will wait until the DOT gets the final approval on the project and the timeline, and once that happens I’m sure we will start discussing our options with them.”
At the DOT’s public information meeting, District 6 Engineer Jim Schnoebelen said generally the DOT does projects where there is local support, and cost sharing depends on the specifics of each project.
“We are still working on it,” said Schoebelen. “It’s not an issue where we are going to force someone to do something; it’s a partnership negotiation.”
The DOT has not financially assisted with upgrading local roads before, Schoebelen noted. “So it’s a bit of a leap for us to work through all that. In general, our primary road funds are for the primary roads system, but we recognize we have a stake in this.”
Follow-up public meetings will be scheduled next spring, after the FHWA approves the Iowa DOT’s Interchange Justification Report, Schnoebelen said.
“By then we will have some more detailed information in terms of right-of-way impacts, and other things property owners are particularly interested in,” Shnoebelen said.
The DOT anticipates purchasing around 90 acres of residential, commercial and agricultural land, including four homes, as part of the two interchange projects, but details of those transactions are still to be negotiated as well. Buyouts are expected to begin next summer, Cutler confirmed.
Information on both projects can be found on the Iowa DOT website at www.news.iowadot.gov/pim, and notices will be published in the North Liberty Leader and North Johnson County newspapers.