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Bumps in the road

SHUEYVILLE–The City of Shueyville, in advocating for reconstruction of 120th Street, has hit a bump bigger than any of the road’s many potholes.
Johnson County and Shueyville city officials agree that the town’s main east-west thoroughfare between Curtis Bridge Road and Interstate 380 has been in poor condition for quite some time, with its narrow and uneven surface, deteriorating pavement, lack of shoulders a collapsing culvert and numerous holes. However, the two entities have yet to reach an agreement on how it should be fixed, or who should pay for it.
Other municipalities in Johnson County maintain responsibility of through-streets within their city limits, but when the Iowa legislature enacted a Transfer of Jurisdiction in 2003, Shueyville was below the law’s population threshold – too small to be required to maintain its Farm-to-Market routes. Therefore, as a matter of state code, both Curtis Bridge Road and 120th Street through Shueyville will remain under the county’s jurisdiction for maintenance and repair, until Shueyville’s population reaches 750.
Last May, 2008, Johnson County Secondary Roads staff and Shueyville City Engineer Dave Schechinger of Veenstra and Kimm Engineering conducted a joint evaluation of the road, categorizing its needed repairs. Results of the joint assessment estimated it would cost over $300,000 just to do necessary patching.
Given the significant cost and temporary nature of such repairs, said Shueyville Mayor Tim Carson, it seemed to make as much sense to reconstruct the road – a project that would cost about $2.2 million.
“The city council – understanding that financing is an issue for everyone these days – has been trying to be creative in the way we pursue this,” said Carson.
A petition was circulated through rural Johnson County, and in just two weeks, 234 signed on to ask the Board of Supervisors to add 120th Street to the county’s 5-Year Road Plan. Shueyville officials offered to foot as much of the bill for the project as their residual Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) dollars would support.
Shueyville council members and Carson met with Johnson County officials to craft a 28E agreement, and last February, Shueyville proposed the county enter into a 20-year bond for the $2.2 million. The proposal called for the City of Shueyville to pick up about $40,000 of the annual $150,000 bond payment for the first 10 years, and, as the city’s population and tax base grew, assume full repayment during the last 10 years of the payback period.
“We anticipated, with the county’s cooperation, that Veenstra and Kimm would move forward this summer with the design, and that we could start with the actual project next summer,” said Carson.
Instead, at the Johnson County Board of Supervisor’s July 2 work session, the board decided to postpone further discussion on the bond proposal until the county’s next budget process, talks that won’t take place until October or November, said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan.
“We are talking about bonding, and we review all our financial commitments during the budget process,” said Sullivan. “It seemed to be the board’s general agreement that it makes sense to review this at the same time we are looking at everything else in our budget.”
Meanwhile, the county will proceed with approved projects on other parts of 120th Street– intersection improvements at 120th Street and Derby Avenue and intersection and pavement improvements to the section from 1-380 west to Highway 965 (with bids to be let in October)– and continue to maintain 120th Street as it has. Currently, the county receives just $13,000 annually for the maintenance of the portions of 120th Street and Curtis Bridge Road that are inside Shueyville city limits, an amount far exceeded by actual costs, said County Engineer Greg Parker.
Whether or not this section of 120th Street is added to the county’s 5-Year Road Plan will have to wait until this fall, Parker indicated.
“If we added it to the 5-Year Plan, we would have to bump another project currently on the plan, if and when this project were to be constructed. This project (120th Street) would probably take a year before we could turn dirt, and that timeframe depends on permits, the time of year, and design completion,” explained Parker.
In short, a delay in the board’s decision means a delay in getting a safer, smoother road. According to Carson, the road’s poor condition has jostled the attention of the transportation director of the College Community School District, fire and rescue personnel from Jefferson/Monroe Townships and even county officials themselves, who re-routed last year’s RAGBRAI® ride away from 120th Street because of safety concerns for the bicyclists.
“The challenge we are up against, looking at road studies, is that traffic counts demonstrate most of the traffic traveling on 120th Street is not city traffic,” said Carson. “Most of it is traffic coming from elsewhere in the Corridor. The issue becomes further challenging when discussing road safety, as projects often receive priority based on a high traffic accident or fatality count. Locally we’ve been very fortunate in this regard, and we certainly hope that it doesn’t take an accident of that nature to get the County to take action on this project.”
Sullivan said the Board of Supervisors’ considerations, when looking at Shueyville’s bond proposal, are three-fold.
“First, we have not bonded for roads before, so this would be a different way of doing it, and we have to think through the pros and cons. Second, if we do bond, there is fairly general agreement that paying back that (small) amount over 20 years doesn’t make a lot of sense. Typically, smaller projects get paid off much quicker,” said Sullivan.
“And the third issue was design,” Sullivan added. “Not only is 120th Street in bad shape, it has poor design and no shoulders. So, do you design it as an urban cross section as opposed to a rural road? I am of the opinion that if it is reconstructed, it should be done right.”
On that point, Carson agrees.
“Since becoming mayor, I have pushed this issue very hard with the Board of Supervisors. Everyone knows what poor state of repair this road is in – everyone, including the county, recognizes that,” Carson said.
However, Shueyville’s ability to repay a loan is tied to their TIF funding, which will also be used to fund the recent renovation of the town’s community center.
“We would be paying for this with TIF dollars, and there are timeframes attached. If the county doesn’t take us up on this soon, the window of opportunity will lapse. We won’t have the anticipated revenue down the road to pay back the debt,” Carson said. “In trying to enter into the 28E agreement, we proposed to pay for half of the project, which we thought was a darn good offer, given that it is still the county’s road. It’s a good faith effort that will serve everyone’s best interest in the end.”
Sullivan acknowledged the difficulty of Shueyville’s position.
“I realize that the road is our responsibility, but so are hundreds of miles of other roads,” Sullivan said. “The fact of the matter is, there is not enough money to go around to do every possible road project. There is no question the whole board recognizes the road is not in good shape and needs to be repaired. It’s just a matter of where it fits in the priority process.
“Deciding on it now would have been looking at it out of context, rather than looking at it when we do the whole budget,” Sullivan concluded.