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Forevergreen interchange on track

Interstate progress for North Liberty and the greater Corridor
The once and future Forevergreen Road overpass in North Liberty. The new bridge is almost complete, with demolition of the old bridge (seen to the right) to take place this winter. The project, which will transform the Forevergreen Road overpass into an interchange for Interstate 380, widen from two to five lanes and incorporate a trail and sidewalk, is on schedule for completion in late 2019. (photo by Cale Stelken)

JOHNSON COUNTY– Those eagerly awaiting the Forevergreen Road interchange will be happy to know progress is moving at a steady pace.
“The bridge is on schedule and is almost done,” reported Newman Abuissa, Field Engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT), District 6. The project in its entirety is expected for completion winter 2019.
The finished overpass will expand to five lanes, and taper to three lanes at both ramps to the east and west. It will also introduce a sidewalk on north side and a trail on south. The new bridge features stylish aesthetic treatments, with limestone features consistent with other new infrastructure in the Corridor. The old overpass, currently being used for hauling, is expected to be torn down this winter, which will likely result in one-lane traffic during night hours on Interstate 380. Grading for the ramps is expected to be completed this year for paving in 2019.
West Forevergreen Road from Park Road to Kansas Avenue is also being reconstructed as part of the interchange. Reconstruction of Forevergreen Road from South Jones Boulevard to Kansas Avenue Northeast is taking place in two phases: Covered Bridge Boulevard to Kansas Avenue, currently under construction as per the 2019 fiscal year budget, has experienced delays due to weather but is anticipated for completion this winter. Work between Jones Boulevard to Covered Bridge Boulevard is expected for next construction season. IDOT will initially fund the project and the City of North Liberty will reimburse upon completion, with bonds of $2.5 million for each section and an anticipated first payment due in fiscal year 2022. According to the 2018-22 and 2019-23 Iowa Highway Programs, construction for the Forevergreen Road interchange will cost an estimated $20.1 million.
North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar said the project should take pressure off the busy Penn Street interchange, improve accessibility to the city’s office research park and potentially open a large part of southwest North Liberty for development. The city is working on plans to extend sewer and water service to the area.
“Once all of the improvements are completed, that area will be ripe for development,” he remarked.
The City of Tiffin also eagerly awaits the completion of the interchange, which sits at the city boundary. About half of the northern Park Road, also referred to as “New Park Road,” has been paved in preparation, with the remainder to be completed next year.
“That gives us another front door to our community,” Tiffin City Administrator Doug Boldt said of the future interchange. The northeast corner of Tiffin is also home to the budding Park Place development. The approximately 250 acres will host commercial, mixed use and residential development next to the brand new interchange.
“Obviously there’s going to be an economic impact there, both commercially and residentially,” he noted.

Evaluating the Penn Street interchange

With persistent hopes of widening the current two-lane Penn Street interchange into five lanes, the IDOT is now taking the concept into serious consideration. A planning study is underway to evaluate Interstate 380 from Highway 30 in Cedar Rapids to just north of Forevergreen Road. The Penn Street interchange will be included in this study, which is being led by the IDOT’s planning office in Ames and will likely take a year or two, Abuissa estimated. A public information meeting will be held Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Recreation Center on Cherry Street in North Liberty regarding these plans.
“This interchange will be evaluated for traffic and forecasted traffic, and at some point in the future we will look at the options,” the engineer elaborated. “We don’t have the data yet to justify an option or a solution to the problem.”

I-380/I-80 systems interchange

Two miles south, the IDOT is in the early stages of a major reconstruct of the I-380/I-80/U.S. 218 systems interchange. Construction began last summer, moving dirt in the southwest quadrant. The contractor is evaluating options to access the northeast quadrant soon. Other than providing a potential distraction to freeway drivers, this work will take place outside the existing lanes and not affect traffic significantly. Following completion of the Forevergreen Road interchange, Abuissa anticipates its use as a diversion route in 2020 as traffic experiences possible delays on the I-380/I-80 interchange. Completion for the systems interchange is anticipated for fall 2024; in June, IDOT won a $50 million INFRA (Infrastructure For Rebuilding America) grant to accelerate construction by two years.
The current interchange, known as a “cloverleaf” style, will be transformed into a “turbine” or “flyover” interchange. In place of the sharp, weaving loops, the new configuration will have commuters “fly over” the entire interchange with a 50 mile-per-hour bridge.
“Those weaving areas are short and they are causing problems for the semis to accelerate from 25-30 miles per hour up to 65... in a short distance, and traffic is increasing,” Abuissa explained. “The existing configuration is not serving that movement and is becoming dangerous, and it’s going to back up in the future. It’s already backing up sometimes during rush hour.”
Between 2004 and 2014, 477 crashes occurred at the major interchange, six of which resulted in fatalities. According to IDOT documents, several of those crashes involved semis hauling freight, precipitating rollovers and requiring safety personnel to close the loop ramps for debris cleanup.
“The new configuration will have an easier merge and a faster speed, and that’s what you see in Des Moines, Chicago, other major interchanges for these kinds of highways,” the engineer said.
Interstate 380 will be widened to six lanes with 12-foot shoulders for approximately one mile north of the Forevergreen Road interchange. U.S. 218/IA 27 will be widened to six lanes to approximately one mile south of I-80. Additionally, auxiliary lanes will be included in some areas between interchange ramps. With actual road construction beginning in 2020, peak congestion is anticipated in 2021 and 2022.
Construction for the I-380/I-80 interchange project is estimated to cost $290.8 million for FY 2019-23, according to the Iowa Transportation Program.
“We’re going to have to be ready for what could be kind of an influx of traffic patterns for the next couple years, because of all of the construction,” said Doug Boldt, who predicts potential traffic increases on Highway 6, Ireland Avenue and Roberts Ferry Road. The city administrator cautioned, while the strenuous Ireland Avenue extension project helped stabilize traffic in Tiffin, “I think this project is going to make things a little bit unstable again for a couple of years.”

Express bus

To mitigate the number of cars on I-380, the IDOT has deployed an express bus, starting Monday, Oct. 1, between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. The bus takes riders from the Cedar Rapids Ground Transportation Center to Kirkwood Community College, Coralville’s Iowa River Landing and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, before its final stop at the Court Street Transportation Center in Iowa City. Available to the public Monday through Friday, it’s equipped with Wi-Fi and restrooms. “We’ve heard through all our process of developing this project that if we have more public transportation, people would use it and reduce the demand or load on I-380 and this is one of our measures,” Abuissa noted.
The bus is planned for five years during construction of the interchange, depending on its use rate.
Updates and overviews of both interstate projects can be found at http://iowadot.gov.

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