WATERLOO — A major highway construction project kicking off Monday may create headaches for motorists and emergency responders.
Contractors are expected to close U.S. Highway 63 from Franklin Street north to the intersection with Conger and Newell streets at 8 a.m. Monday. The projected two-year closure allows workers to rebuild the highway, including a new railroad overpass.
Meanwhile, workers are planning to close First Street, which serves as northbound U.S. 63, from Jefferson Street across the Cedar River bridge to Franklin. Mullan Avenue, or southbound U.S. 63, will be converted to two-way traffic while First Street is rebuilt.
Through traffic on U.S. 63 will be detoured from the junction of U.S. 63 and U.S. 218 by using U.S. 218, Airport Boulevard and Airline Highway. But local traffic is likely to find alternate, unmarked detours around the closures.
Waterloo Fire Rescue officials said they’ve been working with the Iowa Department of Transportation and Canadian National Railway on ways to mitigate potential delays for fire engines and ambulances responding from downtown to areas north of the closure.
“That’s really going to hurt us mostly because of the railroad traffic,” said Battalion Chief Mike Moore.
With the railroad underpass on U.S. 63 closed, emergency vehicles will be looking to use East Fourth Street or Logan Avenue, which frequently are blocked by trains.
Fire Chief Pat Treloar said his department is hoping the DOT will set up a camera at the Fourth Street railroad crossing with a live feed to the main fire station. That would let fire officials know if those tracks are blocked before sending equipment that direction.
Moore said fire officials are also concerned about the change in traffic on Mullan Avenue, expecting some level of motorist confusion in the early stages of the project.
“When that starts, we’re going to avoid it as much as possible … until people get used to it,” Moore said.
Cross traffic will be maintained across U.S. 63 on Franklin and Jefferson streets but not on Commercial Street.
Peterson Contractors Inc. of Reinbeck is under a $26.4 million contract to rebuild the highway from Franklin to Newell/Conger, including filling in the frequently flooded railroad underpass and building a bridge over the railroad.
That project is expected to wrap up by the end of 2019, meaning the underpass will be closed through next winter too.
Langman Construction Inc. of Rock Island, Ill., is handling the $19.4 million project on the U.S. 63 couplet between Jefferson and Franklin streets. Work on the Mullan section was completed last year, while work on the First Street phase is expected to wrap up in the fall.
For more information about this and other Iowa DOT construction projects in Black Hawk and Bremer counties, follow the Black Hawk and Bremer County Construction Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BlackHawkBremerCo#!BlackHawkBremerCo.