Options eyed to spruce up University corridor | Political News

WATERLOO — City leaders are considering plans to dress up the reconstruction of University Avenue.

Waterloo City Council members have been asked by the engineering firm designing the project for input on the bells and whistles to be included in the design.

Options include everything from colored crosswalks, enhanced streetlights and banners on signs to sculptures in medians, sheltered bus stops and flower beds.

“One of the most consistent things people brought up (during public input meetings) was they want to make sure that we don’t just build an ugly road,” said Larry Wiele of AECOM.

The city is hoping this winter to open bids on the first phase of an estimated $38 million project to reconstruct nearly three miles of University from U.S. Highway 63 to the Cedar Falls city limits at Midway Drive.

Several councilman said it was important for Waterloo to ensure an aesthetically pleasing corridor, especially since many decorative enhancements are part of Cedar Falls’ ongoing reconstruction of its stretch of the former state highway.

“We’re in competition with Cedar Falls,” said Councilman Tom Powers. “We’ve got to make it look good all the way through.”

But Wiele and City Engineer Eric Thorson said the council must weigh the type and number of enhancements against both the construction cost and expected ongoing maintenance expense certain improvements carry.

“We want to make it a really nice project,” Thorson said. “On the other hand, we’re going to have some maintenance responsibilities that will go along with that.”

J.B. Bolger, of the city’s Leisure Services Department, said the city picked up nearly $17,000 in additional annual maintenance costs for enhancements added along U.S. Highway 63 from Newell Street north past Donald Street. And University Avenue will be three times longer.

Weile noted certain amenities, like grass and plantings, carry higher long-term maintenance responsibilities than others, like decorative lights. That all weighs into the council’s design decisions.

AECOM has developed a list of “ultimate” enhancements for the corridor, which have an estimated $3.2 million price tag. But the $38 million budget only includes $1.5 million in enhancements, which the city hopes will be partially funded with a $750,000 grant it will seek from the Black Hawk County Gaming Association.

The BHCGA grant application is due by Dec. 15 and is driving the request for council members to respond quickly about their desired corridor enhancements.

Waterloo received $28 million from the Iowa Department of Transportation over the past two years when the state turned over jurisdiction of University to the city. City officials are still looking for additional dollars to complete rebuilding the road.

Plans call for the first reconstruction phase, from Greenhill Road to Ansborough Avenue, to begin in the spring. The second phase would rebuild the road from Greenhill west to Midway while the final phase would run from Ansborough east to U.S. 63.

Waterloo’s plans include signalized intersections and no roundabouts, which have proven controversial in Cedar Falls.

But Councilman Pat Morrissey continues to push for engineers to re-evaluate the Waterloo project to see if roundabouts would be warranted if the speed limit was reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph east of Greenhill.