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Road improvements needed to accommodate ICCSD schools

NORTH LIBERTY– Since the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) announced plans last year to construct a 1,500-capacity high school near the intersection of North Liberty Road and Dubuque Street, city and county officials have been moved to talk about how to get students there safely.
The North Liberty City Council heard from City Engineer Kevin Trom of Shive Hattery Engineering on May 27, with an overview of possible street improvements and estimated costs to upgrade portions of North Liberty Road and Dubuque Street.
Trom told the council the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC) completed two traffic studies on the area; a general study on Dubuque Street in 2012, and a study of the new school’s impact on traffic this year.
“What we learned from 2012 study was– and they ran different scenarios with 30-year projections– Dubuque Street can remain a two-lane road with the expected growth levels in this area, with spot improvements at some of the intersections from North Liberty to I-80.” Some intersections may need turn lanes, roundabouts, or traffic signals, Trom said. “Most of that is outside North Liberty’s jurisdiction.”
The one intersection of more immediate concern is that of North Liberty Road and Dubuque Street, where the new high school will be.
The main entrances to the high school will be off North Liberty Road, with one possible access off Dubuque Street. MPOJC recommended at least a turn lane for that access, Trom said.
“So we thought it made the most sense to make that section a three-lane section so it could accommodate lots of left turns,” Trom said.
The intersection, which has been in the county’s jurisdiction, actually already warrants improvements, and the MPOJC has suggested either regulating it with traffic signals or a roundabout.
“They are leaning toward a roundabout because it would provide a better level of service, a little shorter wait times for people, and it would slow vehicles down,” Trom said.
For the road in front of the school, the engineering firm has created preliminary designs for a complete reconstruction of North Liberty Road, from Dubuque Street to the northern boundary of the school property, as an urban section with curb-and-gutter. The remainder of North Liberty Road, currently gravel, would be rebuilt as a rural section, with two 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders, half of which would be paved.
“We are estimating costs at just under $6 million for all the improvements shown,” Trom said. “That’s the total; not just North Liberty’s share.”
Council member Chris Hoffman asked what North Liberty’s immediate expenses would be, and who the city would ask to share in the project costs.
“That’s a discussion this group still has to have,” replied City Administrator Ryan Heiar. “Immediately, we need to consider the school frontage, the Dubuque Street frontage and the intersection. The question is, who will be willing partners?”
Mayor Pro Tempore Gerry Kuhl said during a joint governmental meeting in April, residents who live to the south were concerned that no plans were in place for accommodating the traffic the new school will bring.
“We assured those residents that the planning for the roads was in process,” Kuhl said. “They were thinking we hadn’t done anything, that we were derelict in our duty with having young drivers out there, and I hope that has gone away. Hopefully they will know we are on top of the roads.”