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Master of the Road

NORTH LIBERTY– Plans for Highway 965 are officially moving along.
Last Tuesday, the North Liberty City Council approved the master plan for improvements to the north-south thoroughfare through North Liberty, after nearly 12 months of public meetings, presentations and deliberations over funding with adjacent property owners.
The concept plan, developed by McClure Engineering and Howard R. Green companies, outlines construction of a five-lane roadway from Coralville to the northern boundary of North Liberty. The total project is estimated to cost $23.5 million for construction and $4.7 million in engineering and administration fees, to be completed in seven phases over the next 10 to 15 years. Coralville’s city council previously approved the master plan, proposed as a joint effort between the two communities with each city bearing a portion of the costs.
The biggest question mark in the project has always been funding. On Dec. 11, city officials met with local business and property owners concerned about being assessed to pay for the improvements. That day, council member Coleen Chipman, City Administrator Ryan Heiar and Mayor Tom Salm all offered words of assurance that the council hopes to pay for the project through a combination of federal and state funding and annual budgeting.
Last Tuesday, councilor Terry Donahue expressed the same concerns over budgeting, saying the plan was good but the expense was his biggest reservation.
“In my view, the plan is well put together and it’s very forward thinking,” Donahue said. “Irrespective, I’m still voting no on the resolution. In reading the figures, we’re closing in on $30 million. Even if we are lucky and get a 50 percent match, we’re still tied up over $15 million.”
Donahue noted there are other capital improvements projects, such as improvements to Forevergreen Road and Jones Boulevard, a library expansion, and a new city hall– all of which have “indeterminate price tags”– that need to be addressed.
“We’re compounding ourselves a lot of debt, and I have a lot of trouble with that,” Donahue said.
Council member Chris Hoffman agreed funding the project was his biggest concern, but felt the highway plan was flexible enough to allow scaling back if necessary.
“It did have options to make it smaller and keep it within our budget constraints,” said Hoffman. “I’m going to approve this because it is scalable.”
Approval of the master plan passed 4-1, with Donahue voting no.
The final draft of the plan will be taken to Washington, D.C., in February, when city officials from North Liberty, Coralville, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids will visit with legislators on Capital Hill to lobby for federal funding for this and other capital projects in the Corridor area.
The first phase of the plan calls for adding two traffic lanes and a turn lane, pedestrian walkways, streetscapes and traffic signals from Ashley Court to Lions Drive, as well as at the Fairview Lane/Highway 965 intersection, estimated to cost around $2.6 million, with an additional $372,500 for engineering fees. According to Adam Bohr of McClure Engineering, design plans should be finalized within six months, and construction of Phase I will take approximately 12 months