The Waverly City Council on Monday voted to accept two contracts to receive a $450,000 in federal money to reconstruct one of the town’s arterial streets, but not without a bit of resistance.
The resolutions called for the city to enter into an agreement with the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments (INRCOG) as well as the Iowa Department of Transportation to get the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) federal swap aid funds. The money would go toward the rebuilding of First Street Northwest between West Bremer Avenue and Fifth Avenue Northwest just south of Nestlé.
However, one councilwoman questioned the need for the project. Ward 4’s Heather Beaufore thought that First Street isn’t as bad as it is described, and another well-used piece of the city’s infrastructure should be a higher priority.
“I see structures in our community that are … worse off than this section of First Street,” Beaufore said. “First Street Southwest I think is worse than Northwest. Our Rail Trail Bridge, that is going to be the next Green Bridge if we keep ignoring that.
“I really want to encourage council to prioritize where we should be putting our money, whether there are grants included or not.”
Picking up on that, At-Large Councilman Matthew Schneider said that the city has some assets that it doesn’t “run them to the end of their life.”
“I don’t think, going forward, governments are going to do that as easily as they once did,” Schneider said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to be a choice of councils in the future.
“If we can get this right going forward, our road system will be — it’s in great shape already — but we’ll be able to maintain that, where other cities slip.”
Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen warned that if First Street Northwest is allowed to continue as is, it would be unusable by the time the Bremer Avenue Bridge would be under its scheduled reconstruction in 2023.
“Really, the timing that we need to be aware of, if we want to be proactive and plan accordingly, we need to get (First Street Northwest) replaced and redone before that span of bridge is shut down,” Birgen said. “I think if we want to provide access to our downtown, that access is primarily going to be over First Street Northwest, around Cedar Lane and coming in from that side.
“There is going to be a lot of wear and tear on this road while the Bremer Avenue Bridge is out of commission, and I think we need to be proactive and replace this road before it falls apart rather than scramble for the problem afterwards.”
However, using a term from her nursing background, Beaufore thought the city should be proactive in “triaging” what needs are to be met and how to best use what the city has.
“When I recently seen pictures of that Rail Trail Bridge, that is horrific,” she said. “That is going to be the next Green Bridge. That is one of the staples of our community — walkable, bikable community is that Rail Trail Bridge. It is literally falling apart underneath it.
“When I look at First Street Northwest, it looks fine. Yes, it’s going to start breaking down and it’s going to get a little cruddy, probably shortly after the Bremer Avenue Bridge is completed, and it’s going to be needed to be fixed after that, definitely. I really want you guys to look at what we need to do now versus let’s fix this because we can when we still have use out of it.”
However, City Engineer Mike Cherry pointed to the agenda memo. On Page 2 of the document, it says First Street Northwest was rated by the DOT as “poor” and “very poor,” according to the Iowa Local Road Evaluation website.
The paragraph continues to state that the street sees much heavy truck traffic to and from Nestlé, and there have been multiple overlays on the street, plus it has a large crown.
“There is a neighborhood of 150 trucks a day going to and coming from Nestlé,” Cherry said. “There are, I believe, over 5,000 vehicles a day (that use First Street Northwest), so it’s very much a heavily used roadway corridor.”
He then suggested to think ahead to 2023 when the Bremer Avenue Bridge is under construction and how much traffic would be on First Street to get to or from East Bremer Avenue. He said looking at First Street Southwest’s traffic while Fourth Street Southwest from Second to Eighth avenues is under construction would give members a glimpse into that scenario.
“But on First Street Southwest, we have done our best to limit the amount of semi traffic on that roadway corridor,” Cherry said, referring to message boards telling truck drivers to take the posted detour of 10th Avenue Southwest and Heritage Way. “This corridor is just the opposite.”
Birgen said that First Street Northwest would be much worse shape in 2023 if the city didn’t take care of it now rather than waiting until after the Bremer Avenue Bridge was completed.
In response to a query from Beaufore, Cherry said repairing the Rail Trail Bridge is “not an option.” Mayor Adam Hoffman added that the block grant funds being applied for First Street would even be eligible for the Rail Trail Bridge.
“Keep in mind, this bridge structure was built in 1904,” Cherry added. “For the first 95 years of its life, the city did not own it.”
In the end, both the INRCOG and DOT agreements for the grant were approved unanimously.
In other discussion, the council continued talks about how to memorialize the Third Street Southeast Bridge, which is colloquially called the Green Bridge. Members are still struggling whether to keep a span of the 1914-built bridge or to dispose of it and place a plaque near where it stood or upstream at South Riverside Park.
Hoffman suggested that the council try to build in an intermediate budget figure for the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, for which talks would begin at the end of this month. The council is also seeking input from the Historical Preservation Commission, whose members Don Meyer, Karen Lehmann and Kris Brunkhorst attended and provided some feedback.
The council also approved a change order for the Fourth and 10th Street Southwest construction projects from Wicks Construction. The Fourth Street portion added one working day and $13,723 to the bill, while 10th Street needed an extra 3½ days and $2,687 due to unforeseen utility conflicts on each corridor.
Fourth Street, which is also known as Business Highway 218 and by the state as Iowa Highway 116, is being widened to three lanes between Second and Eighth avenues. It is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, 10th Street Southwest was repaved with new utilities installed between West Bremer Avenue and Second Avenue Southwest near Waverly Health Center. It has reopened recently.