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Cedar Rapids City Manager warns against costs of two-way street conversion

Rick Smith, CR Gazette –

CEDAR RAPIDS — City Manager Jeff Pomeranz told a City Council committee on Tuesday he didn’t want to embark on a quarter-million-dollar traffic study that would propose multimillion-dollar improvements the city can’t afford.

The topic at hand in front of the council’s three-member Infrastructure Committee was a long-lingering one: Converting the one-way streets into and out of the downtown into two-way streets on both east and west sides of the Cedar River.

In the short run, the city is moving ahead with a small project to convert one-way Fourth and Fifth avenues SE to two-ways between First and Third streets SE as part of a redesign of the city’s flooded Ground Transportation Center bus depot. The new depot design, for which federal funds are helping to pay, requires two ways for the buses to arrive and depart.

Utilities Director Pat Ball said the changes around the depot have prompted some property owners to ask if longer stretches of Fourth and Fifth avenues SE also will turn into two-ways. That move would be less costly than converting sections of Second and Third avenues SE because of the smaller number of traffic signals on Fourth and Fifth, council member Scott Olson noted.

But Public Works Director Dave Elgin said changing the railroad signals to handle two-way traffic on each block between Second and Fifth avenues SE could cost $250,000 each.

The council committee agreed to ask the downtown property owners if they might be willing to help fund the $230,000 traffic study to convert one-ways to two-ways.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Pomeranz recalled how he had pushed for a traffic study in 2011 to see what it would take to change railroad crossings through the downtown so trains wouldn’t have to blast their horns at all times of the day or night. However, in May, Pomeranz pulled the plug on the quiet-zone concept when he learned that the study would cost $370,000 and the remedy another $7 million to $10 million.

The city manager also pointed to a 2011 traffic study of First Avenue East between 27th and 40th streets, which proposed installing medians at certain stretches to reduce turning traffic and keep traffic flowing. Businesses along First Avenue East protested and the median idea was set aside in September.

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