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The new big project for North Liberty

NL council discusses Phase Five of the Ranshaw Way reconstruction project
This Shive-Hattery rendering shows a pedestrian tunnel planned to go under Highway 965 (Ranshaw Way) in North Liberty just north of Hawkeye Drive. The project, estimated at $9.3-9.4 million, should go out for bids in March with work to begin later next year.

NORTH LIBERTY– Reconstruction of Highway 965, also known as Ranshaw Way, in North Liberty will continue next year with Phase Five of the multiyear project.
City Engineer Kevin Trom and representatives from Shive-Hattery presented an overview of the $9.3-9.4 million project to the city council on Tuesday, Oct. 27, during the council’s regular meeting (conducted virtually).
“This is the new big project for North Liberty,” said Trom of the project, which will go from Zeller Street south to Hawkeye Drive. The road will be reconstructed with two lanes in each direction with a left turn lane added (east and west) at a rebuilt intersection with Westwood Drive. As part of the reconstruction, paver bricks will be installed at the crosswalks along with seat walls and landscaping on the corners.
In addition, pedestrian pushbutton stations (to activate the signals) will be installed as well. Overhead utility lines along the east side of 965 will be moved underground, and a 10-foot wide trail will be built along the west side with a 5-foot wide sidewalk along the east. A landscaped median with a variety of plants and trees will be constructed down the middle of Ranshaw Way.
The centerpiece of the project, however, is a pedestrian underpass just north of Hawkeye Drive, which will utilize two vacant lots in the mobile home park, and a small portion of the golf course. Emily Naylor, a landscape architect with Shive-Hattery walked the council through the tunnel portion of the project, which was inspired in part by the underpass at Cherry Street.
“We have to transition downgrade in quite a hurry (while staying within Americans with Disabilities Act gradient requirements), so we took the opportunity here to do some community identities, almost ‘public art.’ If you think of the Cherry Street lighted bridge panels, we’ve got some interesting themed prints.” Naylor explained the otherwise bland concrete walls will have oversized prints of bicycle sprockets sandblasted into them. “And we’re going to mount a few that are made out of metal, and a few of them are going to stand-off (from the surface) and be backlit at night, which ties into some of the snazziness we were able to do up on Cherry Street,” she said.
Council member Brent Smith, while admiring the overall beauty of the design, expressed concerns about the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of so much plant life. Naylor responded by saying she had been working with Parks Director Guy Goldsmith on the plants selected and noted while it does look labor-intensive, “We’re doing it as low-maintenance as possible without giving up the ‘punch’ we were going after.” City Administrator Ryan Heiar added the city was exploring the possibility of contracting out for maintenance of the flora, to minimize any additional demands on the parks staff.
“This is a very much needed thing around that area, and I think it’ll be very nice with the continuation of the trail system that we have here in town, and I think it looks beautiful,” Smith added.
Council members Brian Wayson and Chris Hoffman expressed concerns about the location for the underpass, and how useful it will be.
“I love the idea of a tunnel going under 965,” Hoffman said, “I just feel like it’s not really useful where it is.” Hoffman pointed to the Cherry Street underpass being located on a bike path, as well as how tunnels in Coralville “serve a somewhat useful purpose, mostly if you’re on a bike.” He said while the design is beautiful, he was struggling with the usefulness.
“It doesn’t solve any of our pedestrian needs,” he said, noting how kids living behind the Fareway grocery store, south of Zeller Street, and on the west side of 965 will still be crossing the road. “It’s attractive, and it’s a great way to bike, but it doesn’t drop you off anywhere helpful. It’s just getting you on the other side of the road. There isn’t a function to it, and that’s where I’m going to struggle with this.”
Heiar defended the location with a vision of the 965 corridor 10-15 years in the future. “There’s going to be a lot more development to the south so I do think, eventually, it’ll pick up users. People made the same argument about the one up on Cherry Street, that the kids farther south wouldn’t be able to use it. And, unfortunately, we can’t have a tunnel on every block.” Heiar also noted the master plan calls for a tunnel somewhere in Phase 5, “and topography plays a role in location.
“Someday when it’s all built-out, it’ll be a well-used feature,” he said.
Plans have been submitted to the Iowa Department of Transportation for review with final plans due by Dec. 22. Bids are to be let for the project on March 16, 2021, with construction commencing during the 2021 construction season.