Waterloo city leaders and city staff have done an excellent job in listening to a very important segment of their constituents and stakeholders concerning the timeline for University Avenue reconstruction.
The result is that reconstruction of the west phase of University Avenue moves into the on-deck position, switching places with the east phase of construction.
Contractors are currently working on a middle section, from Greenhill Road to Ansborough Avenue. The entire three-mile road project between Waterloo’s western city limits and U.S. 63 near downtown Waterloo, is estimated at $40 million.
Calls for the switch became public last month, when City Councilman Bruce Jacobs called for the western phase to move ahead, beginning next year.
“If you compare how many businesses are on the east leg and how many are on the west leg, it would seem to me that we would want to devote our resources to the greatest need,” Jacobs said last month.
Indeed, the western section contains numerous businesses and vacated business buildings that are on hold for reconstruction so they can be sold or leased.
Among those are the now-vacant Hy-Vee grocery store, former Kmart building and the former Slumberland Furniture building – all very large and visible structures along that stretch of Waterloo’s University Avenue.
Any progress in getting those structures sold or leased – and operating as new businesses – would most likely be on a much longer timeline had the west end project remained as the last to be completed.
Keenan Davis, whose family owns the former Slumberland Furniture building at 4020 University Ave., said they need a firm end date to find a buyer or to redevelop the empty structure.
He also noted another issue for consideration.
“Right now, there is a distinct line between the completed process in Cedar Falls and then the less-than-pleasant empty buildings, including our own, in that (Waterloo) section,” he said.
Earlier this summer, a project design team had recommended rebuilding the east section from Ansborough to U.S. Highway 63 beginning next year, because no right-of-way easement acquisitions were necessary before bids could be sought in February.
At an earlier meeting, Michelle Sweeney, project manager at the AECOM design firm, noted that the benefit of having the east phase done first, would be to give city staff more time to acquire the 23 construction easements and properties needed on the west phase.
But she also said that the west phase would benefit more businesses and would complete the gap from the city limits with Cedar Falls, to the middle section in Waterloo.
Last week, the council also authorized the use of eminent domain, should it be necessary, to acquire the 21 temporary easements and two sewer easements required to begin construction on the west section next year. City officials have stated that they still expect to negotiate voluntary easements.
One could argue that a longer deadline on negotiating easements might only equate to a longer negotiating process – with eminent domain options still needed at the end of that process.
While the timeline switch effectively reverses the initial recommendation – it was agreed upon by a strong majority of the council with a 5-1 vote.
“I think this is a great example of the business community reaching out and having conversations with folks to maybe educate them a little more about what’s going on in certain sections of our city,” said Councilman Steve Schmitt. “I think this is going to be a very beneficial move by doing that west end first.”
We would agree, and we also see the logic in continuing construction at Midway Drive, where the Cedar Falls section of University Avenue ends.
Kudos to the council for listening, reasoning and coming to a sound conclusion.