TIFFIN— Mayor Royce Phillips has been working on the proposed extension of Ireland Avenue from Railroad Street to US Highway 6 in Tiffin for 44 months. The project has been around even longer.
Finally, the first signs of progress are starting to show.
Demolition crews have taken down two houses along Hwy. 6 to make way for the extension. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, a track hoe stood ready outside one of the condemned structures while workers marked trees with a green “X” to indicate they, too, were coming down.
Phillips said the plan is to clear the right of way of trees, bushes and structures this fall. The city owns not only the two properties, but also a house on Railroad Street, the Tiffin Locker location, and a garage in the path. While the city owns the locker property, the business will stay open through the fall hunting season. Phillips added the locker property is not necessary for the extension and future plans for it are undetermined at this time.
All necessary property has been acquired but for one small portion on the south end at Railroad Street. Phillips explained there are four lots along there, originally owned by the Rock Island Railroad. The city learned that all but one had been sold, but the parcel in question has had nothing done legally since 1906 or 1911. City inquiries to the current railroad company, the Iowa Interstate hit the end of the track as the railroad knew nothing about the parcel.
Bids for the road proejct are expected to be let in December, with actual construction taking place next spring. Currently the focus is south of the highway, while the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) performs a final plan review on the intersection of Ireland, Hwy 6 and Roberts Ferry Road. IDOT oversees the federally-owned highway, and thus must approve any work affecting it. Originally, IDOT said the intersection would not warrant a traffic signal. However, with the intersection next to the Clear Creek Amana Middle School, that may change.
“We are expecting there will be a signal there,” Phillips said, adding the city would be on the hook to pay for the lights.
In February the city was awarded a federal grant for $430,000 to apply toward the project, with the balance of roughly $1.8 million– coming from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds the city has generated.
In other Tiffin news, the mayor announced two new buildings are coming to the industrial park, but said he did not know what business would occupy them. Phillips remains committed to getting a water main extended south to the industrial park. Currently the area is served by wells. The Mayor is confident the park would expand with the addition of water service.
Phillips’ top priority is water-related; the construction of a new, larger water tower.
“I need 300,000 gallons yesterday,” Phillips said.
The proposed new tower could be either five to six– or as much as 10– times larger than the current tower, or between 500,000 to one million gallons in capacity and could cost $2-3 million.
“We’re way behind on some projects,” Phillips said. “We’re making do with what we have.” Phillips cautioned however, if there were to be a major fire in Tiffin, “we would be bringing in water from all over” as the current system wouldn’t be able to handle it. He also pointed out a larger water supply would lead to a reduction in fire insurance rates for property owners.
But, don’t expect ground on a new tower to be broken tomorrow.
“My guess is, we’ll award a contract to an engineering company soon, who will determine where, how big, and the financials.” Two sites are currently under consideration: one on a hill by the Kum & Go store, the other on the northwest side of Tiffin near Deer View Avenue.
Phillips said the city’s financial consultant is coming this Wednesday, Sept. 28, to spell out the community’s financial health and funding options. To fund the water tower, Phillips said, there could be a bond issue, water and sewer funds could be used, or water rates may have to slightly increase. At this point, none of those options has been decided, however.
“I want to do this at the absolute minimum cost to the taxpayer,” Phillips said.
A third project is the rebuilding of Roberts Ferry Road north to Goldfinch Drive, which citizens of Tiffin rated as a top priority for community improvement projects. The street would be rebuilt to contemporary standards with full curb and gutter. Phillips tried to secure funding through the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC) back in June, but was unsuccessful.
“We’ve been trying to open the flood gates on improvements,” Phillips said of his time in office. “The town seemed happy at 300 (population), then woke up one day to find 1500.” The 2010 Census put the population at 1947, but Phillips is confident “we’re well over 2000,” noting the city sees an average of 100-200 new residents every year.
“It just takes time for the wheels to turn,” Phillips said.