WATERLOO — The city is moving forward with a feasibility study to replace two major Cedar River bridges in the next two years.

Waterloo City Council members voted unanimously Monday to approve a $505,000 contract with Stanley Consultants Inc. of Des Moines to handle preliminary design work for the Park Avenue and 11th Street bridges.

The city has received a $12.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to cover the expected construction costs for the project. But city taxpayers will be responsible for the design costs and to cover any construction overages that might occur.

Councilman Steve Schmitt ultimately supported the measure despite questioning whether the city really needs both bridges.

“We’ve got six bridges within about eight blocks of each other,” Schmitt said. “What is this ultimately going to cost the taxpayers? And have we looked at other options?

“Those bridges were built when Waterloo was a town of 85,000 or so,” he added. “Those bridges were built when downtown Waterloo had tens of thousands of people in it, and things have changed.

“So the question is: Are those bridges needed, number one? And number two, are we confident that the $12.5 million … is going to cover both bridges?”

For the record, Waterloo’s current population of 68,406 people is greater than the U.S. Census total of 46,191 when the Park Avenue bridge was built in 1938 and slightly higher than the 65,198 residents tallied when the 11th Street bridge was built in 1953.

City Engineer Jamie Knutson acknowledged there has been debate in the past about the need for the Park Avenue bridge, especially when the city had no grant funding to replace it. But he said the city is obligated under the current grant to replace both structures.

“We do have to replace these bridges,” Knutson said. “This was tied as part of a statewide grant.”

Iowa received $33.4 million to repair or replace 77 bridges. But those were all part of a single grant application the Iowa Department of Transportation made to the Federal Highway Administration.

“There is no option of not putting one back or not doing one,” Knutson said. “If we do not replace both of them we lose the grant, and we most likely will jeopardize the grant for the entire state of Iowa.”

Knutson said the program is still a bargain for the city even if the design costs reach $4 million.

“Right now the only cost to the city is for the design … and the inspection costs,” he said. “For probably in the neighborhood of around $3 million to $4 million, we’re going to get two brand new bridges replaced over the Cedar River.”

Previously, the city had only been offered $1 million in grant funding to replace each bridge, leaving more than $10 million for local taxpayers to find.

“I think it’s incredible,” Mayor Quentin Hart said. “When you sit around with staff and you think about how are we going to be able to repair two bridges that are in desperate need of repair … to be able to have those costs absorbed, I think that’s pretty phenomenal.”

Stanley Consultants will be conducting traffic counts and numerous technical studies as part of the feasibility study. But it also will be working with local stakeholders and the public to get input on the bridge design.

“The basic idea is that everything underneath the bridge will be the same between the two,” Knutson said. “It will be what’s on top that will look different.”

Jessica Rucker, executive director of Main Street Waterloo, said the downtown economic development organization is pleased to have a say in the Park Avenue bridge design.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to re-imagine how this important piece of infrastructure can further improve downtown Waterloo,” Rucker said. “I am confident the stakeholders who will be at the table, and public input, will ensure the improvements, accessibility and design will benefit our community and showcase the vibrancy of downtown Waterloo.”

IDOT is expected to open bids on the statewide bridge replacement in September 2021. Both Waterloo bridges are expected to be under construction at the same time in 2022.

“There’s a lot of work to do between now and September ‘21,” Knutson said.

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