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Forevergreen Road study picks up where it left off

NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty is jumping back into bed with Coralville; this time, it’s a potential roadbed.
The two cities decided to re-open a road study on Forevergreen Road, the dividing line that separates Coralville’s northern boundary from North Liberty’s southern one. The communities will equally share the cost of a $57,000 engineering study that will determine the best alignment for the extension of Forevergreen Road eastward to North Liberty Road.
The North Liberty City Council approved the 28E agreement with Coralville at its June 26 meeting, agreeing to contract with engineering firm Shive Hattery for services including reviewing and researching existing material, mapping and evaluating the physical features of the road corridor, creating alignment alternatives and holding meetings with private property owners as well as a public open house to gather citizens’ input.
This last aspect is crucial, if anything is to be learned from a previous Forevergreen Road study.
In March 2004, a similar, $59,000 engineering study was launched by the City of Coralville– with a $15,000 contribution from the City of North Liberty– to identify an alignment for Forevergreen Road to extend east from 12th Avenue to Dubuque Street. Earth Tech Consultants conducted the study and presented a final draft in June 2006. The proposed alignment drew concerns of many residents from all along the proposed corridor, particularly those who live on Dubuque Street and North Liberty Road. The residents cited concerns about disruption of homes and farmsteads, disturbance of natural resources, dense residential development, safety issues and lack of comprehensive planning. A proposed 386-acre subdivision on what used to be the Scanlon farm had many fearing extremely heavy traffic, adding to safety problems.
The loudest criticism, though, was the lack of public input during the two-year study.
In the end, the Urban Area Policy Board of Johnson County’s transportation advisory planning organization (at that time called Johnson County Council of Governments, or JCCOG, now known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County, or MPOJC) voted 8-5 to reject the 2006 study and not include the proposed extension on its arterial streets plan.
Both North Liberty and Coralville dropped interest in the project until recently, after long-disputed annexation plans for the area were resolved between the two cities.
“As I understand it, (the study) was dropped and sat still,” said North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar. “With the annexation dispute resolved, it makes sense to go through the process again.”
An east-west corridor will be increasingly important as the area gets developed, but Heiar emphasized the study is not about extending the road, at least for North Liberty.
“It’s about planning for the future so we know where the road will eventually be,” Heiar said. “The City of North Liberty has no intent to go in and start putting this road in. Obviously, the Scanlon property will probably be one of first areas to develop, so it makes sense to have that major street planned so we can have the best flow of traffic when it does get developed”
Heair said the City of Coralville is currently working on a voluntary annexation in the unincorporated area between the two cities, but he anticipates both cities will ask developers to construct the road as it is developed.
“Years from now,” he added.
North Liberty City Engineer Kevin Trom, who works for Shive Hattery, said much of the data gathered in Earth Tech’s initial evaluation will be used to inform the new study.
John Yapp, Executive Director of the MPOJC, said his organization is aware of the upcoming joint study, and will be involved, though is not sharing in its funding. While MPO staff have not yet met with Shive Hattery, Yapp said they expect to be at the table with other stakeholders, including Coralville, North Liberty, Johnson County and Iowa City Community School District officials listed in the project proposal.
“We knew it was coming, and so far, we have been doing traffic counts, traffic forecast work, and we are working on a traffic study for that part of Dubuque Street and North Liberty road between Coralville and North Liberty, which the Forevergreen Road extension will affect,” said Yapp.
The MPOJC is now gathering collision data, traffic speed information, and other details that will help establish baseline data for the study.
“Our role initially will be to provide the information, the consultant will look at a variety of options and we, collectively, will react to those alternatives proposed,” Yapp said.
Whether or not the extension will be adopted to the MPO’s arterial streets plan this time around is still up in the air. It isn’t necessary for the road to be built, Yapp said, but its adoption would make the project eligible for federal transportation funds.
“The other effect of its adoption would be that it establishes a corridor, so that as North Liberty, Coralville and Johnson County review development plans in that area, there is an agreement through the MPO about where the road corridor will be,” Yapp said.
The agreement with Shive Hattery lists a number of meetings that will take place with stakeholders, private property owners, with the public and at city council meetings. Heiar did not know when those meetings would begin.
“Shive Hattery is waiting for the MPO to get done with the Dubuque Street study,” said Heiar, to use the gathered data as a starting point.