Sierra Club Puts Highway 100 Extension on "50 worst" Highway Projects List

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A national Sierra Club report on ways to make smarter transportation investments this week takes another swing at the $200 million Highway 100 extension in Linn County.

The environmental group attempts to call attention to the need for more mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle transportation options in its report, "Smart Choices, Less Traffic."

The eight-mile Highway 100 Extension from Edgewood Road to Highway 30 west of Cedar Rapids is one of 50 "worst" projects mentioned in the report, along with 50 projects the Sierra Club found worthy of praise.

"This outdated project was conceived more than 30 years ago when gasoline cost $1.24/gal.," the report says. "It was first envisioned as part of a bypass around Cedar Rapids."

"Since then," the report says, "a town has emerged in the center of the proposed route. The proposed Highway 100 extension, a 3.8-mile, $200 million project, would add another 10,000 cars per day to the main street, Collins Road, causing congestion, air pollution, and dangerous conditions for people who want to walk or bike through town."

The Sierra Club's opposition to the project has been clear for many years. It is suing to block the project from going forward on multiple grounds.

Still, the negative description left Allen Witt of Hall & Hall Engineers, who's been spearheading the project for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, shaking his head.

There's no new "town" that local residents aware of, and the bypass is at least twice as long as the report describes. Witt says the project was routed to go around a state nature preserve with considerable attention to mitigating its impact on wildlife.

The report also fails to mention that a recreational trail is designated for clearing and grading along one side of the new route, although paving isn't included in the project.

Pamela Mackey-Taylor of Marion, the Sierra Club of Iowa energy chair, nominated Highway 100 for the report. She is glad it was included, even though she doesn't agree with some aspects of the description.

Taylor said the new "town" referred to was the commercial buildup along Collins Road that has caused it to become the city's new commercial center. She said the report probably mentioned only 3.8 miles of the route because that's the section that goes through the Rock Island County Preserve.

The Sierra Club isn't opposed to the Highway 100 project per se, Taylor said, but rather to the construction of it through the Rock Island Botanical Preserve area with its rare and endangered plant and animal species when other options were available.

Witt said the options were carefully studied and rejected by the state and federal government.

"This is the most studied corridor in the State of Iowa's history," Witt said.

Witt also noted that the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization has shifted a great deal more funding from road construction to construction of recreational trails with the support of the Cedar Rapids City Council. He said the Highway 100 extension will reduce congestion on Edgewood Road, First Avenue and I-380.

The Sierra Club report says that despite increasing urbanization, only 54 percent of Americans have access to mass transportation. It links the nation's addiction to highways to a decline in daily exercise, and massive reliance on fossil fuels. In fact, it points to two major highway projects built to help extract more fossil fuels.

Taylor said a common theme in many of the projects criticized in the report is "they don't care what the natural environment is or what the historic environment is - they just ram these projects through."
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