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City of Fairfax Concerned Construction Could Cut Off Access

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FAIRFAX, Iowa City leaders have concerns that a future bridge replacement project will cut off access to both sides of the community.

So the mayor is putting out a "call to action." All Fairfax residents and businesses are getting a letter that lays out the dilemma. The city is acting now as engineers start developing the plans to replace the bridges on Highway 151.

Crews will replace three bridges on 151, but two of them are right in the heart of the Fairfax. They are not too far apart and the DOT is thinking about working on both at the same time. One bridge is the railroad viaduct, but the city is more concerned about the smaller bridge over Prairie Creek. That sits just north of the viaduct.

Over time the city has grown on both sides of that creek.

"Highway 151 is the only connection point, locally in town," said Mayor Jason Rabe.

The city is just learning the details of the bridge project, but the mayor is already thinking of the impacts. Losing the bridge over Prairie Creek would completely cut the city in two, leaving no way of getting from one side to the other without leaving town for a detour.

"That could really have some detrimental impact on our businesses, really inconvenience for our citizens and also a big concern is emergency services, our fire department is on one side of town, the only way is to get on 151 to come and service this side of town," Mayor Jason Rabe said.

So, the mayor is asking residents to contact elected state officials and the DOT with their concerns. You don't have to go far to find some of those concerns.

"It's a bad idea," said Business Owner Al Sankot.

Sankot spends his time fixing cars at his shop along 151. His garage sits just beyond the construction site, meaning he could lose access to his Cedar Rapids customers.

"Probably 75 percent of our business comes out of Cedar Rapids," Sankot said.

The city knows construction is a growing pain that they'll have to deal with. If the DOT, however, is cutting out the lifeline, the mayor says he's hoping for a compromise. City leaders are asking engineers to find a way to get some traffic through. DOT representatives said they're working on that.

"We've done things like use run-arounds where we actually pave or make a different way for traffic to go just besides the bridge that's being replaced," said Iowa Department of Transportation's Cathy Cutler.

The construction on the bridges isn't slated to begin until 2015 or 2016. Right now, nothing is set in stone for the project. The DOT said there isn't anything wrong with the bridges, but this is the first step in a larger project to potentially widen Highway 151 to support higher volumes of traffic.

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