The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Antsy public looking for construction cranes; bid reports on viaducts this week prove big deals take much time

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Viewpoint on May 21, 2008 at 2:56 am

It’s hard to get big things started and built.

Earlier this month, City Council member Brian Fagan hinted at a little frustration with the pace of things when he told two accomplished firms competing to help the city redevelop its riverfront that he had an interest in getting at least a piece of the project moving quickly.

In truth, Iowa is already almost two months into the construction season and some of the bigger things in the works — a RiverWalk, a riverfront amphitheater, a new Intermodal Transit Facility, a new downtown housing development, a new federal courthouse — will be coming to reality some other year.

This week, the council will hear about bids on multimillion contracts that are part of two substantial road viaduct projects that have been in the works for years. And the projects are worth noting.

Both road projects, years in the making, involve two viaducts over railroad tracks. One project will take Edgewood Road SW from Highway 30 south, opening up a prime industrial development area for the city. The second project will run 33rd Avenue SW from Interstate 380 to the Westdale Mall area, taking traffic off Wilson Avenue SW.

The point: It was April 2002 when then-U.S. Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta, came to Cedar Rapids to hold up a $3-million check to help fund the Edgewood Road SW viaduct project. The city already had gotten an earlier, $4 million grant for the project. Back then, City Hall suggested the project might be started in 2003. It was started last year and will be completed in 2009, Dave Elgin, the city’s public works director and city engineer, now says.

Projects take time.

It’s not hard to find someone these days scratching his or her head a bit over the city’s hiring of consultants.

In truth, highway projects like the viaduct ones have plenty of outside design and engineering help, but those efforts go unnoticed because they are so matter of fact.

The consultants are more noticeable, apparently, as the city tries to come up with a master plan for a downtown or a riverfront or as it tries to decide if it makes sense to build a new bus depot here or there.

For this year, the most tangible thing coming to the city is apt not to be more bricks and mortar. Rather, the city should get a sizeable chunk of money from a newly created state pot of money especially set aside for riverfront development. Then real talk of building can begin.

But there are a couple of touchable projects happening, too.

One is the Bottleworks condominium project that is breathing new life into the empty Osada building, 905 Third St. SE. The renovation will add more housing on the edge of downtown than an empty building does, and housing is seen as crucial to the revitalization of downtown. The Bottleworks renovation has begun and the first units of the 58 are expected to be ready in August.

A second project is a little harder to get to. But grading work is underway at the city’s Cedar Valley Urban Fishery, off Otis Road SE. What had been an industrial sandpit, now will be a big fishing hole with a paved walking trail around it in a pretty spot along the Cedar River. Some will get out there to fish, but plenty more will be out there walking once the site is open to the public. The plans have called for the opening at summer’s end.



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