By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN– The City of Tiffin has encountered many roadblocks on its six-year path to extending a main thoroughfare through town, but the Ireland Avenue project continues to gain ground.
At the city council meeting Feb. 12, City Attorney Crystal Raiber told the council the remaining necessary easement agreements were falling into place at last.
Ireland Avenue is the north-south road that brings traffic into Tiffin from Interstate 80, and currently curves east to become Railroad Street. Since 2008, the city has been planning to realign Ireland Avenue so it will continue north to connect with Highway 6 and line up with Roberts Ferry Road. Delays and deferments have kept the project from moving past its design phase, as the city navigated problematic agreements with the Clear Creek Amana school district, postponements from the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), complicated funding mechanisms and cumbersome right-of-way negotiations with businesses, residents and Grace United Methodist Church.
The city has already spent a great deal of money on improvements that will stretch from Railroad Street to just north of Highway 6, even though ground has not yet been broken. In order to bring the street to the highway, the city agreed to give Grace United Methodist $600,000 for reconstructing its parking lot and moving an entrance to the facility. Individual property purchases and temporary easements have been acquired along the way, most costing the city between $600 to $900 each. More recent agreements include a deal with property owners who asked the city to guarantee the safety of trees and bushes adjacent to the road construction at a potential replacement cost of $32,500; a $3,000 reimbursement agreement with a business owner on Marengo Road to mitigate the potential loss of business traffic; and paying $150,000 to Jon Schneider, owner of Jon’s Ice Cream shop, in part to build a retraining wall next to the new road.
Raiber reported that minor details on the agreements with Schneider and the church should be settled by the end of this month. The city now awaits a lease agreement with the Iowa Interstate Railroad company for land across from the new city hall, hoping to purchase the property for overflow city parking as soon as the railroad settles existing liens. Once that agreement is signed and delivered, all the necessary paperwork should be in place for the Ireland Avenue project to move to the next stage, Raiber said.
City Administrator Michon Jackson said signatures on the three outstanding agreements should be obtained any day now.
“Once that happens, it opens the doors for our engineer to forward the final plans– which we’ve had completed for awhile– to the Iowa DOT for processing and to officially set when we can bid it out to start the project,” Jackson said in an email last week. “We are assuming that will be in June, but we won’t officially know until we hear back from the DOT.”
The project will ultimately be paid with bond revenues, but Jackson said Friday the project’s cost estimates have changed with each delay the city has experienced, so a final anticipated cost was not available.
Council member Peggy Upton has been consistently vocal about keeping the Ireland Avenue project high on the list of council priorities, and was equally heedful at the last meeting when talk turned to starting a new street project.
On the council agenda was the business of approving engineers from Hart Frederick Consultants PC to proceed with design and cost estimates for improvements to Roberts Ferry Road, the thoroughfare that will connect with Ireland Avenue and continue north through town.
“Where is the money coming from?” Upton asked. “Do we have money present to pay for this?”
Some of the design for Roberts Ferry Road has been completed already, noted Mayor Steve Berner, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC) awarded Tiffin 40 percent of the project cost in grant funding last year.
Jackson said the remainder of the design fee would come out of the city’s general fund, as part of the city’s capital improvements expenditures.
“I am not too keen on charging ahead with capital improvements projects until we get Ireland under construction,” said Upton. “In the event that doesn’t move forward right away, I’d like to know that we have money to pay for this.”
City Engineer Doug Frederick of Hart Frederick offered a nonbinding, ballpark estimate of $50,000 for design fees.
“I do know we need to get going on it and approve funding for it,” Berner said. He suggested internally transferring existing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenues from the water fund to incur the debt and modifying the city’s urban renewal plan to make Roberts Ferry a TIF-eligible project.
“We have a $370,000 of our $786,000 of TIF money spent,” said Berner, leaving a little over $400,000 left in TIF revenues.
“I just don’t want us to have to bond money early to pay for something like this. I don’t want it to wait either, but I’m just concerned about how we will fund it,” said Upton. She conceded she was more comfortable proceeding knowing the design costs could be paid with TIF dollars.
The council unanimously voted to proceed with the next stage of design for Roberts Ferry Road.