Waterloo council hears criticism of University Avenue roundabouts

By JON ERICSON, jonathan.ericson@wcfcourier.com

Source: WCFCourier

Roundabouts would replace traffic lights at some intersections on University Avenue under a proposal to restructure the road between Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Photographed Monday, February 18, 2013. (BRANDON POLLOCK / Courier Staff Photographer)

Roundabouts would replace traffic lights at some intersections on University Avenue under a proposal to restructure the road between Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Photographed Monday, February 18, 2013. (BRANDON POLLOCK / Courier Staff Photographer)

WATERLOO, Iowa — Despite the apparent distaste some have for a plan to radically change University Avenue, the Waterloo City Council voted unanimously to give preliminary approval to the plan.

Like the Cedar Falls City Council a week ago, the Waterloo council voted to allow the Iowa Department of Transportation to proceed with environmental analysis for a University Avenue reconstruction that would reduce the road from six lanes to four and add several roundabouts.

That reconstruction would take up the most space, and that’s the reason the council approved it.

The Waterloo resolution explicitly states the city is not endorsing the plan with roundabouts, but rather preparing for an expansion that could include that amount of land for environmental assessment purposes.

The DOT had asked for the cities’ preferred design options so it could complete the work required for the environmental review.

Two council members, Steve Schmitt and Ron Welper, expressed concerns during a work session about the roundabouts and shrinking the road, but both were part of the unanimous vote supporting the resolution.

“From what I’ve heard, primarily from business people, they’re not supportive of roundabouts,” Schmitt said.

Welper said it’s the high-traffic nature of University Avenue that has people upset.

“What I’ve heard from citizens so far is they don’t have a problem with roundabouts, but no one wants roundabouts on University Avenue,” Welper said.

In addition to concerns voiced by the two council members, two members from the public spoke during the council work session, both of whom had issues with the proposed DOT plan.

John Sherman was concerned about the cost of the project and whether a $30 to $40 million University Avenue reconstruction would take away from other needed road projects in the area.

Larry Wyckoff was concerned that additional right of way needed for roundabouts could close down businesses, and making on-street accommodations for bicyclists could be dangerous and put the cities at risk for liability in case of an accident.

In addition, Pete Hosch, a Hy Vee assistant vice president for real estate, said his company would object to roundabouts on a reconfigured University Avenue, as the company fear it could affect traffic flow for their two stores on University Avenue and a planned convenience store and coffee shop at the old Platt’s Nursery location.

Mayor Buck Clark said the ultimate design will be left to the city.

“If we want to sit here and say we don’t want roundabouts, we don’t have to have any. That decision will be left up to our own engineering staff and our consultants who design it,” Clark said.

DOT environmental assessment specialist Janet Vine indicated an environmental assessment would likely be finished by this fall.

Noel Anderson, the city’s Community Planning and Development Director, told the council a decision on design would likely not be needed for another year.