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CEDAR FALLS | Following more than five hours of discussion and debate, the City Council voted 6 to 1 Monday night to approve a redesign of University Avenue that will replace six of its eight intersections with roundabouts.

The plan does not include on-street bike lanes and will reduce University Avenue from six lanes to four in Cedar Falls. Construction would occur from 2016-18.

The council action authorizes the project design. Future steps would include right-of-way acquisition and letting of bids for construction.

Council member Susan deBuhr cast the only "no" vote. Her motion to table the matter was defeated.

The total cost is estimated to be $32.5 million, the cheapest of three concepts created by Foth Engineering, the Cedar Rapids-based firm hired to redesign the road.

Hundreds of citizens packed into council chambers at City Hall to voice their thoughts on the future of the dilapidated thoroughfare.

The crowd was split on the issue, though critics of Foth's plan were vehement in their opposition.

Proponents of roundabouts argue they increase safety, improve travel time and are more efficient. Critics argue they are less safe, unable to handle higher volume traffic in a metro area like University Avenue and will cost more than expected.

University Avenue, once part of U.S. Highway 218, has been deteriorating for decades. The last time it was reconstructed was in 1952. It was widened and resurfaced in 1970.

"No one likes the road as it is," resident Travis Biggs said. "We can all agree on that."

What everyone can't agree on is whether a new University Avenue should include roundabouts.

"I think that you'll probably hear a lot of 'I think' tonight," said Sue Beach, who supports roundabouts. "I do appreciate the data."

Developer Craig Fairbanks drives through roundabouts in Cedar Falls every day.

"I love them," he said with a shrug.

Roger White is an avid bicyclist and self-identified environmentalist.

"Because it's the least costly, the most efficient for the city, most efficient for us as the motorists and the safest, I would support it," White said.

Hy-Vee has a store located along University Avenue.

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"I've seen this happen in the past, and there are situations where (roundabouts) can be incorporated and done correctly," said Peter Hush of Hy-Vee's corporate offices. "Looking at the designs we feel comfortable."

Cedar Heights Pet Clinic is also located along University Avenue. Dr. John Jorgensen is against Foth's plan because it will eliminate an access point to his clinic.

Roundabout critic Biggs thinks the council is ignoring what most people in the city want.

"All of your jobs are to do is gather information, present it to the public and then do as we say," he said to the council.

Larry Wyckoff has become an outspoken anti-roundabout fixture at council meetings.

"How many people are willing to have their taxes go up to pay for this abortion?" Wyckoff said. "Because that's what it is. An abortion."

According to Mayor Jon Crews, property taxes will not be raised to pay for the project.

"There is no intent to use property taxes," Crews said.

The city has budgeted $36 million for the project. Cost estimates from Foth set the price at $32.5 million, which includes a 10 percent contingency.

"One thing that happened is that $20 million got stuck in everyone's head, that that was going to be the cost," said Director of Community Development Ron Gaines. "This project was always going to be $20 million plus."

The city has set aside $5 million in local option sales tax funds for the project. That leaves $7.5 million, which the city intends to cover with grants. Though the council is against increasing property taxes to pay for the project, it has left the option on the table in the event grant applications fail.

Bill Dahlhauser and others anticipate a new multi-million-dollar bond referendum for facility improvements in the Cedar Falls Community Schools District. That, coupled with a potential property tax increase to pay for University Avenue, would break the bank, in Dahlhauser's view.

But, "something needs to be done," Dahlhauser said. "It's been a pit since I moved here in '81."

"There are some people who think it needs to be done as long as their taxes are okay," said Molly Long, an engineer with Foth. "And some are just opposed."

Biggs, Wyckoff and others think the city should just repave University Avenue. Foth estimates that would cost $33.4 million.

Those looking for more information about the city’s plans to rebuild University Avenue can visit www.cedarfalls-universityaveproject.com.

CORRECTION: This story corrects the spelling of the last name of Dr. John Jorgensen and clarifies that he was speaking on behalf of Cedar Heights Pet Clinic not his Brookside location.

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General assignment reporter for the Courier

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