WATERLOO — City leaders are tapping the brakes on plans to set new speed limits for University Avenue.
Waterloo City Council members on Monday delayed voting on a recommendation from engineers who designed the roadway after Councilman Pat Morrissey pushed for lower speeds.
The city is rebuilding University from the west city limits at Midway Drive to U.S. Highway 63 near downtown with plans for the overall project to wrap up by the end of 2020.
The AECOM engineering firm and project design team have recommended reducing the speed limit from 45 mph to 35 mph from Midway Drive to Greenhill Road while maintaining the current 45 mph speed limit to the east.
But Morrissey pushed this week to have speed limit cut to 35 mph along the entire roadway.
“Thirty-five miles an hour allows all of us to better appreciate, take pride in, and enjoy the use of this corridor bridging downtown Waterloo with our westerly neighbor Cedar Falls,” Morrissey said.
He suggested the 35 mph limit would be consistent with the Cedar Falls portion of the roadway; would make sense given the number of lanes have been reduced from three to two in each direction; and would reduce the severity of accidents.
Morrissey also noted the presidents of the Church Row and Edison neighborhood associations support the 35 mph speed limit.
AECOM’s Doug Schindel said the engineering team agreed with the 35 mph speed limit on the westerly portion of the project, which coincided with the connection to Cedar Falls and includes areas where businesses have numerous driveways onto the street.
But he questioned the difficulty of enforcing a 35 mph speed limit to the east where there are frontage roads, access is controlled by signal lights, and motorists would feel comfortable driving faster.
“Heading east down the hill from Greenhill Road, you’re going to be riding the brakes,” Schindel said. “The stretch between Fletcher (Avenue) and 63 might be a tough one to control (at 35 mph).”
While other council members agreed to delay voting on the speed limit for two weeks to gather more information and public input, they were not anxious to throw out the engineering recommendation.
“We pay AECOM and other folks tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to come up with proposals,” said Councilman Steve Schmitt. “Aren’t those based on some level of science?
“With all due respect to the neighborhood association presidents, some of us think roads are designed to move vehicles,” he added. “There’s a speed limit set based on the most efficient moving of those vehicles, and that’s what roads are designed for.”
Councilman Bruce Jacobs said the decision was important.
“We want people to use the road; we don’t want to scare people away from this road,” Jacobs said. “Business owners want people to come back to University Avenue and shop there. We don’t want to make it hard to get through, or slow.”
City Engineer Jamie Knutson said it was important to make a decision soon because AECOM is currently designing the section from Ansborough to U.S. 63. The speed limit will determine the type of curbs being included in that design.
Contractors are expected to complete construction on the first phase of University — Greenhill to Ansborough — this construction season. The second phase from Cedar Falls to Greenhill is expected to last through 2020.
The city is hoping to open bids on the final phase, from Ansborough east to U.S. 63, this winter so construction can begin in the spring.