WATERLOO — A massive concrete-walled overpass has changed the landscape near Sullivan Park and will give U.S. Highway 63 motorists a better view of the approaching downtown.
Contractors are making headway on the project between Dane and Newell streets, which has been under construction for two summers but still is expected to open for traffic as originally scheduled in late November.
The unique project handled by Peterson Contractors Inc., of Reinbeck, under a $26.4 million contract with the Iowa Department of Transportation, is turning what once was a frequently flooded Canadian National Railway underpass into an overpass.
“You used to drive 22 feet below the railroad tracks,” said DOT spokesman Pete Hjelmstad. “When it’s done, you’ll be driving 32 feet over the top of them.”
The view from the peak of the structure looks down on the Sullivan Park ball fields and OMJC Signal and provides a new view of the Queen of Peace Church spire and Black’s Building downtown.
Work started with the installation of an underground drainage system in the fall of 2017. The roadway closed for heavy construction in March 2018 as the pit below the railroad grade was filled in.
“Most of the challenges were last year when we had to temporarily relocate the railroad tracks to do the demolition work underneath,” said Kyle Koenig, resident engineer with Jacobs.
“Once we’re at this point in the project, now it’s pretty much a standard road and bridge project,” he added. “All the weird stuff was getting rid of the underpass.”
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Contractors recently finished the concrete side walls on both sides of the railroad, which are tied together with metal straps. The area between the walls has been filled with crushed limestone and a new foam concrete material to provide a base for the roadway.
The plans called for nearly 141,000 cubic yards of granular backfill, which equates to roughly 11,720 dump truck loads of material brought to the site.
Koenig said the railroad has agreed not to run trains Friday so contractors can place bridge beams between the embankments on either side of the tracks in one day. Plans tentatively call for the bridge deck to be poured in mid-August and paving to be started in early September.
There is also a lighted pedestrian tunnel running through the structure where a foot bridge once crossed over the highway. The overpass also includes a sidewalk on one side.
While the work has created significant detours, Hjelmstad said the public has been patient and understanding.
“As far as I’ve heard, or haven’t heard, the public has been awesome,” he said. “We definitely appreciate that.”
The overpass is the last phase of a more than $60 million reconstruction of U.S. 63 from the downtown intersection with U.S. Highway 218 north to Donald Street near UnityPoint-Allen Hospital.
The first phase completed in 2016 rebuilt the road from Newell and Conger streets north and involved removing 26 houses and three businesses. The second phase, still being tidied up, rebuilt the one-way couplet of First Street and Mullan Avenue from Jefferson Street to Franklin Street.