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Highway 965 funding gets another lift

NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty keeps chipping away at street improvements projects, and little by little, funding assistance keeps the wheels of progress turning.
At its May 29 meeting, the Urbanized Area Policy Board of the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC) voted to funnel another $1,948,000 to North Liberty for Highway 965. The portion of roadway approved for this round of funding, which stretches from Penn Street to Zeller Street, is considered the third of a planned seven-phase, comprehensive plan to widen and improve the thoroughfare.
It’s been a long haul.
The multi-year Highway 965 improvement project was proposed in 2007, with the intent of getting a good portion of its funding from federal and state grant sources. The overall project has been scaled back and slowed down over the years to match available capital, but at least some work has been done each year. The hoped-for financial aid has also trickled in, allowing for the signalization of busy intersections, realigning Fairview and Golf View lanes, adding various turn lanes, widening certain sections to five lanes, and to begin this year, the flattening and reconfiguring of the Scales Bend intersection. Widening the highway from Penn Street to Community Drive was already on this year’s capital improvements plan, with that work to commence this summer.
Every two years, the MPOJC is given a pool of Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) dollars that originate at the federal level. The MPOJC is responsible for divvying them out to local entities that compete for the funding through applications detailing their projects.
Applications are scored by the MPOJC’s Technical Transportation Advisory Committee, or TTAC, and recommended for approval on the basis of each projects’ impacts on safety, multi-modal transportation, reduction of travel time and reach of users over multiple jurisdictions. Also considered is the match for funding each project is expected to receive from the local government. North Liberty will still be responsible for matching 60 percent of the phase III costs, estimated at around $5 million.
North Liberty City Council members Gerry Kuhl and Terry Donahue serve on the MPOJC’s Urbanized Area Policy Board, a representative group of elected officials from Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin, University Heights, the Iowa City Community School District, the University of Iowa and Johnson County.
“I made the motion (to approve the funding) and was happy to do so,” Kuhl said. “I thought the allocation among the cities was very fair.”
North Liberty asked for $1,986,833 in Surface Transportation Project (STP) funds from the MPOJC this year, and was granted 98 percent of its request.
In addition to North Liberty’s request, Coralville asked for $4 million to complete First Avenue improvements, Iowa City and the University of Iowa jointly requested $2.28 million for a Burlington Street median project, and Tiffin asked for $313,871 to reconstruct a portion of Roberts Ferry Road. Tiffin was the only city to be given 100 percent of its request; the other cities were funded just short of their requests.
Kuhl said TTAC’s review of the projects, and their ultimate recommendations for approval, seemed to go smoothly this year. The committee has spent recent years working to streamline the project review and recommendation process, revising its scoring document and criteria after committee and board members expressed concerns.
“The TTAC’s May 21 meeting only lasted 40 minutes, that’s how much unity there was,” Kuhl said. “Everybody seemed to feel good about all the recommendations.”
And the Urbanized Area Policy Board followed suit in its May 29 meeting in approving TTAC’s recommendations.
“There was limited discussion among board members,” said Kuhl. “To me, that was a sign that the board is working on an intercommunity basis.”
Once this phase of the Highway 965 project is done, it brings North Liberty near the halfway point of completing the overall improvements, he added.
“The new funding is a very positive step in this ongoing project,” Kuhl added.