NORTH LIBERTY– About 75 North Liberty residents came out Wednesday night to learn more about what’s in store for the city’s streets and parks.
City officials held an open house last Wednesday, March 27, to allow the public to view plans for future road projects and two city parks.
“The purpose of the meeting was to get the public familiar with our upcoming projects,” said North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm. “Jones Boulevard, Highway 965 and west side park improvements.”
The upgrades to Jones Boulevard and Highway 965 will have significant impacts on through-town traffic, though project engineers have created plans that will allow traffic to continue to flow as smoothly as possible during road construction, said Kevin Bailey of McClure Engineering Company.
Road projects have also been spread out in phases to reduce the inconvenience for residents and travelers. Bailey presented an overview of the potential traffic impacts to the North Liberty City Council last Tuesday night.
The first project to get underway will be Pheasant Lane, a street that accommodates residents of the Aspen Ridge subdivision on the north edge of North Liberty. Pheasant Lane will be extended westward to hook up with Highway 965. The new section will be three lanes, with left and right turn lanes and a middle through-lane for the intersection. Bailey said signs will be used to control traffic during this road project, rather than temporary traffic signals, but conduit will be installed to allow for signals to be installed in the future if traffic counts change enough to warrant them. Construction on Pheasant Lane is expected to begin April 8, with a completion deadline of July 31.
At about the same time, improvements to Highway 965, designated as Phase IIA, will occur. Twelve-foot lanes will be added on each side of the highway from Penn Street southward to Community Drive. From Westwood Drive south to Fairview, the highway will also be widened on each side so a 14-foot center turn lane can be added. In addition, the crew will remove the existing raised medians on Highway 965 at its intersections with Zeller Street and Westwood Drive.
“Traffic phasing through Phase IIA is going to be quite simple,” Bailey told the council. “When we are going to be widening on the east side between Penn and Community, the north and south bound lanes will remain open. Then when we do the widening on the west side of 965, both lanes will be shifted and north and south bound lanes will still be open.” That project is also expected to be completed by the end of July.
A more significant project will then begin on Highway 965 north toward Scales Bend Road. Highway 965 Phase II will be a total reconstruction of the roadway from Penn Street to Scales Bend. The project, which will flatten and straighten the existing intersection, includes installing curb and gutter, storm sewer, a sidewalk on the west side of 965, a trail on the east side, lighting pedestrian plazas and cross walk constructions.
“We are looking to open bids this summer, with construction starting late summer into early fall,” Bailey told the council.
Traffic detours will be implemented during Phase II, but not until 2014.
“Throughout the project there will always be a southbound lane open” Bailey said. Details of detours will be made available to the public as they occur. “During this phase, we will also see the construction of 240th Street,” Bailey added. “That will be phased to maintain access to Holy Trinity Church and the landscaping business there.”
In addition to Highway 965 improvements, Jones Boulevard is also slated for construction this summer, from St. Andrews Drive south to Forevergreen Road. As on the northern portion, Jones Boulevard will be widened to 29 feet with curb and gutter, and an 8-foot wide trail along the east side. The public hearing is scheduled for April 9 and the contract is expected to be awarded April 23. City engineer Kevin Trom said construction should begin the first week in May. With a 100-working day contract, Jones Boulevard is anticipated to be complete by late fall, depending on weather.
North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm summed up Bailey’s traffic presentation.
“The bottom line is, plan on a lot of confusion for the next year and a half,” Salm said.
To minimize confusion, though, city administrator Ryan Heiar said city staff will step-up communication efforts throughout upcoming construction seasons.
“We will do a number of things to touch base on these things,’ said Heiar. “There will be a tremendous amount of coordination.”
The first effort came last week, when city officials held the open house at the North Liberty Community Center. Maps accompanied traffic control plans and timelines for each road improvement, and project staff were on hand to answer questions.
North Liberty resident Joe Wagner said he attended the open house because he lives in the Fox Run area and he and his neighbors are concerned about how traffic will be impacted on Highway 965.
“Traffic at Scales Bend and 965, at peak times during the day, is already unbearable,” Wagner said. “Trying to turn south on 965 from Scales Bend can be a 20 minute wait during school hours. I want to understand what they are doing with that section of the road from a traffic control standpoint. I think having this type of forum where people can ask questions is an excellent idea.”
City officials also provided comment cards at the open house so people could offer feedback on the intended projects.
“Will it change their plans? I don’t know,” said Wagner. “I think if there is a real concern from residents or business owners, I think there needs to be a process to make those official.”
Resident Chris Mundt said she came to view the proposed parks plans because she understood the city wanted residents’ input on how the new west side park should be developed. Mundt learned that phase one of the new park has already been put in motion, with the construction of 700 feet of concrete drive that will eventually traverse the entire 40 acres. Other phase one improvements include grading the area and digging a retention pond. The drive was made a priority so the annual Blues & BBQ festival would have a location, as its old venue around Liberty Centre pond has been supplanted by commercial development.
Mundt said she lives close to the park and has a vested interest in what goes into it.
“My impression was they were getting feedback as to what residents wanted in the park, but it sounds to me like the design is already set,” said Mundt.
North Liberty Parks Director Guy Goldsmith said after the open house that while phase I is already underway and the park’s basic concept as an open, passive park designed to host large venue events has been generally accepted by the city, details for future development of the park could change.
“It really depends on funding,” Goldsmith said. “The next phases are still open to suggestions. If someone wanted to see Frisbee golf or a horseshoe pit or a different style of playground, we will still take all those ideas under consideration.” However, Goldsmith added, the park will not contain a dog park and building additional sports fields there is not part of the plan.
Though the detour routes for road improvements are also set, Salm said the city will continue to take input via email or through phone calls to city staff, and regular updates will be available as the projects progress.
“Ryan will do his blogs and we will have information on the website,” said Salm. For those who do not use Internet access, updates will be published in the Leader and be available at the community center. “We will try to get the word out as widely as we can.”
Salm acknowledged that driving through North Liberty will be difficult for the next year, and he appealed to residents.
“Please. Please be patient. It will be well worth it when it is all over,” said Salm. “The purpose is to get traffic to flow through smoothly, but also to give people the opportunity to stop at our local businesses. With these improvements, it will accomplish both.”