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Despite public backlash, Iowa City road could soon transition from four lanes to three

Mormon Trek Blvd. in Iowa City could soon see changes from a four-lane stretch of road to three...
Mormon Trek Blvd. in Iowa City could soon see changes from a four-lane stretch of road to three lanes, adding bike paths along each side. (Aaron Scheinblum, KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 20, 2019 at 8:50 PM CST
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A busy Iowa City road will lose some lanes in the near future. The city says this will help keep traffic moving, but not everyone agrees.

Mormon Trek Blvd., one of the main roads going north/south in Iowa City, and the changes would start near the intersection of Mormon Trek Blvd. and Highway 1, ending at the intersection of Mormon Trek Blvd. and Melrose Ave.

The city has already allocated the $1.5 million for the project; $1 million is already dedicated in Iowa City's fiscal budget, but $500,000 will come through a safety grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Despite some city engineers saying the project is basically a done deal, it has not stopped a handful of Iowa City residents to write their council members in an effort to change their minds at the last minute.

At the most recent city council meeting in Iowa City Tuesday, eight letters were written to the council expressing their disapproval in the project.

"There's no good reason for making that change," said Darrell Hansen, who has lived in Iowa City for more than fifty years and says driving down Mormon Trek Blvd. is an every day routine.

When Hansen learned of plans to change the layout along his daily commute, he made his opinion clear attending city meetings and public input sessions. He said his opinion was common among his peers.

"90-percent or greater of the people that were at the session were not in favor of this road diet," Hansen said. "But the city didn't listen."

Scott Sovers, a Senior Civil Engineer with the city of Iowa City, serves as a project manager for the Mormon Trek Blvd. so-called "road diet." He said the issue has been less about ignoring public opinion, but rather related to a need to do a better job "educating."

"Based upon the volumes, and the corridor, this is a good candidate for a four-to-three lane conversion," Sovers said.

"I've looked at the numbers, we went through the design with the consultant- we feel like this is a great project," Sovers said.

Engineers have plans to take the four lane road, currently with two lanes going each direction, into a three lane road. One lane would handle the flow of traffic in opposite directions, while the middle lane would serve as a left-turn only lane.

Sovers said with the changes would come a need to re-pave some areas, while also replacing some traffic lights. The extra space along the sides of the road would allow for new bike lanes to be introduced.

Sovers said the changes would allow for safer travel, using statistics from the Iowa DOT to prove his point.

"We feel like this is a good thing for those people that could potentially get in an accident or have been in accidents," Sovers said.

Statistics compiled by Iowa State University for the Iowa DOT show a decrease in crashes on roads changed from four lanes to three in Iowa cities by 19-percent.

Hansen argues, however, those numbers could be misleading in this sutation- because they may not reflect a busy area like Mormon Trek Blvd. in Iowa City.

"You couldn't add up what they want to do, with the facts that they're presenting, and come up with an equation that says: 'we're going to reduce accidents by doing this.'"

If the city goes ahead with the project, Sovers said they are hoping to start in the spring and finish by early summer.