(Source: “Editorial: Council handling Gateway well,” Daily Iowan, 3 October 2013, by Daily Iowan Editorial Board)
On Tuesday, the Iowa City City Council heard community concerns about the Gateway Project, a plan to raise Dubuque Street and Park Road bridge above flood level. Though some opposed the idea entirely, a consensus that something had to be done was apparent.
The Gateway Project is a roughly $45 million plan that would raise North Dubuque Street, which carries approximately 25,500 vehicles every day, by as much as 15 feet and replace the low-lying Park Road bridge entirely. Around $10.5 million would come from federal and state funding; the remainder would be funded through local-option sales taxes, general-obligation bonds, and other local revenue sources.
Though some may balk at the price of the project, the city can’t afford to do nothing. According to an assessment of the project by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Iowa Department of Transportation, and the city of Iowa City, there are significant costs associated with flood-related street closures.
A failure to rebuild the street would have “potential long-term negative impact on economic vitality of the Iowa City area when high water causes road closures in the Dubuque Street and Park Road corridor.” Such closures cut off access to downtown businesses and add several miles to the commutes of many local employees, so it’s important that the city renovate its roads when the need for flood prevention arises.
In fact, the Gateway is the latest in a series of high-profile flood-prevention efforts that have drawn public attention and ire. The ill-fated Taft Speedway levee project was slammed by critics as a high-cost project that didn’t offer much protection for property owners farther down the river, and opponents of the measure filled City Hall to voice their disapproval. The proposal, backed by city staff, was rejected by the City Council in November 2012 by a 5-2 vote.
Similarly, the East Side levee project, originally supposed to cost $3.9 million, ended up with a $13.1 million price tag after problems with the design came to light. The amount was well over the budget for the project, and it was halted by the city.
These recent failures highlight the difficulty in bringing outdated riverside infrastructure up to modern standards, and they also show that Iowa City’s residents are willing to get involved to make sure any and all flood-prevention efforts are up to snuff. After all, Iowans, and certainly Iowa City residents who were here during the 2008 flood, have seen the damage that a lack of preparedness and a lot of water can inflict on a city.
Given the amount of traffic North Dubuque Street receives and the potential devastation that another flood could cause, we urge the council to continue the Gateway Project and to keep checking the pulse of public support to make sure the most important concerns are addressed.
Regardless of how one feels about the latest flood-prevention proposal, the fact that the council is seeking public input this soon in the process (the project is still in the design phase) can only be a good sign, and a departure from past efforts that have not sought community comment until later on. An Iowa City Chamber of Commerce representative on Tuesday evening expressed gratitude on the way the council has gone about the project.
“We’re very appreciative that you are taking the next steps to move forward with this project; we understand that you are still in the initial stages, that you are still looking at bridge type and composition, but we appreciate that you are moving down this path,” said Rebecca Neades, the vice president of public policy for the Chamber of Commerce.
As the design phase continues, the circumstances and costs surrounding the Gateway may change, and it’s too early to make a definitive judgment one way or the other on the viability of the project. But allowing more community input into the process at city council meetings is a positive sign that the Gateway will have more success than some of its sister-efforts in flood prevention.