It’s not road rage. It’s road fatigue.
Road construction fatigue, that is.
Some of the main thoroughfares in the Cedar Valley have now, literally, been under reconstruction for years.
University Avenue in Cedar Falls and Waterloo has been under construction for three years running. Work in Cedar Falls began in 2016 and was completed last year; work in Waterloo continues and will extend at least into 2020 and beyond.
The reconstruction of U.S. Highway 63 in Waterloo is at least five years running; its initial phase began in 2014.
The construction of the Iowa Highway 58-Viking Road interchange in Cedar Falls in into its second year of work; anticipated to be a two-year project.
Some lanes of West First Street/Iowa Highway 57 in Cedar Falls are now closed — the start of a three-year reconstruction anticipated to be completed by the end of 2021.
Stretches of U.S. Highway 20 south of town have been closed for reconstruction periodically over a number of years, prompting some motorists to take U.S. Highway 218 and county roads through Washburn and Gilbertville to access Interstate 380.
It may be the most major routes under reconstruction at one time in 30 years, since the metro highway system was rebuilt from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s under the $300-million-plus interstate highway substitution program.
Additionally a number of sections of residential arterial and collector streets are closed as part of the annual street reconstruction in Waterloo and Cedar Falls and contiguous cities, funded by the local option sales tax.
Some routes have been under construction so long, motorists have fallen into such an established groove taking detours that one wonders if they’ll go back to the main routes once they are finished.
The fatigue over the prolonged construction can lead to impatience. People drive faster, more aggressively, tailgating, taking more chances passing and turning, cutting in front of other motorists, running lights and stop signs, stopping too far out into an intersection, even driving over curbs and onto lawns.
Try driving the posted speed limit and see how many people pass you, even become angry.
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As wearying as the seemingly endless construction might be, residents have to take a deep breath and take the work in stride.
We recall city officials, in the early 1980s, pleaded for the public’s patience at the outset of the interstate highway substitution program.
That program allowed the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area to “substitute” a single interstate-level intercity highway for an at-grade freeway with intersections in some areas. It allowed metro officials to spend the savings from that scaled-down plan on numerous improved streets and highways throughout the metro area.
It triggered significant development in the city, at witnessed by the growth of the Cedar Falls Industrial Park and areas across the southern part of the city. It was the result of the so-called “Golden Triangle” of improved Highways 20, 218, 58 and the long-awaited connection to Intestate 380.
Plus, the dredging of fill material for those highways gave us a number of new and expanded recreational lakes. And other transportation and environmental enhancements along major transportation corridors gave us the Cedar Valley Trails system — a 60-mile network of trails that is a jewel of our metro area.
Now, however, that massive transportation overhaul is 30 years old. It is showing its age. And, as aggravating as the current road reconstruction may be on a hot midsummer afternoon, it is necessary to maintain what’s there and enhance what possibly could be improved on.
The best examples of that are the 58/Viking project, designed to accommodate the burgeoning commercial growth at that interchange and along and east of Viking; and the Highway 63 project, hoped to spur development through Waterloo, particularly on the east side.
The fruits of today’s road reconstruction may not be seen immediately, but in future years, as was the case with the substitution program, which attracted economic development boons like the Target Distribution Center warehouse in Cedar Falls.
But the metro area may have received a glimpse of things to come with some kudos Cedar Falls received recently.
The city was selected as a 2019 All-Star Community Award winner by the Iowa League of Cities for the reconstruction of its portion of University Avenue from 2016-18. It included a controversial plan to replace six of eight previously signalized intersections with roundabouts. University Avenue traffic signals, once derided as “Christmas Tree Lane,” were never so popular as when they were going to be replaced with something different.
“There was no doubt that the roadway needed to be reconstructed,” said Cedar Falls City Administrator Ron Gaines. “We didn’t want a temporary solution. We wanted to really envision how University Avenue could best serve our community, not only today but well into the future. We are proud of the transformation of University Avenue and excited for the future of that area.”
So while you’re stopped or slowed by road construction, just keep in mind that all that road work is designed to keep this community moving forward — and a place to live, not just a place to drive through.
And as the old saying goes, it’ll be nice when it’s done.