The Ottumwa Courier

January 31, 2014

Ottumwans give input on two street projects

Courier staff writers

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OTTUMWA — Two public information meetings held this week have garnered quite a bit of discussion — and concern — about traffic and businesses in north and downtown Ottumwa.

On Thursday, Public Works Director Larry Seals and City Engineer Dan Sturm met with members of the community who will be impacted by the Pennsylvania Avenue Reconstruction and Widening Project.

Local business owners, residents and even some Ottumwa Regional Health Center officials were on hand to discuss the project, which will hopefully get started in mid- to late March, according to Sturm, and last until fall.

Some of the areas of concern highlighted by guests in attendance included the temporary access points for the businesses on Pennsylvania Avenue, the detour routes that will have to be used, new sidewalks and where the street will have to be widened. There were also a lot of questions about whether certain services, like school bus stops, will have to be changed or delayed.

“We are working with the school, post office and garbage company to make sure the services continue,” Sturm said.

The project will cover the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue from Jefferson Street to Brentwood Drive and is a continuation of the work that has already been done on Pennsylvania Avenue from Highway 63 to Brentwood Drive. It involves a total reconstruction of the road, widening on both sides to accommodate a center turn lane, changing sewer lines and increasing the storm sewer capacity.

Construction crews will also add a right-turn lane on Elm Street and smooth out the intersection of Elm Street and Pennsylvania Avenue by taking out the slight hump that currently exists and straightening Pennsylvania Avenue to take out the existing slight S-curve. Sturm said they are also looking at possibly taking out the stop on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Elm Street intersection, making that intersection a two-way stop.

The project will be split into three stages, and during each stage there will be different detour routes and temporary entrances to businesses. Each stage will take a few months to complete, according to Sturm, so the whole project will probably take most of the construction season to be finished, depending on weather.

“We try our best to minimize the impact on the community, keep it affordable and timely,” Seals said. “That’s why we decided to break it up into three stages.”

Bids for the project will be received on Feb. 12 with the bid awarding to be presented at the City Council meeting on Feb. 18. Sturm said that once a bid has been accepted, there will hopefully be another meeting to discuss the finalities of the project with community members. The engineer’s estimate for the project has been set at $2,475,000.

In contrast to the structure of Thursday's meeting, Wednesday's public hearing was to collect input and concerns over the two-way traffic conversion of Main and Second streets during the Flood Protection Mitigation Project. Residents and business owners along those two streets from Jefferson to McPherson streets were on hand to give their input on how they would be affected by the shift in traffic.

During the sewer separation project from McPherson Avenue to McLean Street, there will be times that this portion of Main and Second streets will need to be converted to two-way at certain times. Studies over the past 25 years, plus one in 1972, have been done to examine the concept of eliminating one-way traffic through the business district, and Seals said these were now being considered again.

"We're looking at whether it makes sense to switch the whole corridor if we're going to do it," Seals explained. "We want input from stakeholders about their (businesses') schedules and deliveries. We need to know how it's going to affect you."

Business owners and residents along those roads were quick to describe how they would be affected by two-way traffic — in mostly negative ways. The major concerns are over parking, access for loading and unloading and how two-way traffic will change the flow of shoppers past their business. Pulling a 30-foot crane trailer up to a business is hard enough with two lanes of one-way traffic, one owner said, but imagine how congested the street would be when they have to try it with two-way traffic.

Many of the businesses along Main and Second streets are already using space in front of their neighbors to unload trucks, holding up traffic and often forcing cars down to one lane, the owners said. Loading zones aren't out of the question, but they may have to be placed some distance from the building, taking away some parking spaces elsewhere.

Homeowners along the McPherson Avenue to McLean Street stretch were concerned about the basics of the entire project — where were they supposed to put out their garbage and how were they supposed to get to the bus stops during construction?

Seals assured them that the city would be working with sanitation and transit officials to make some adjustments that would work for everyone. There may also be a need, as discussions of two-way traffic continue, to meet with Postal Service officials to see how two-way traffic flow will affect post office customers. Comments were made by those at the meeting about the need to move the drive-through mailbox area and making the parking lot two-way as well.

Another seemingly simple question was raised near the end of the meeting: Who's winning if we change to two-way traffic? What's the positive side of this?

"The benefits are that it slows traffic, which means it's safer for pedestrians," Sturm said.

The ideas and concerns gathered this week will now be complied and given to the City Council at a future work session. Residents and business owners will be notified along the way about time frame for work on the Flood Protection Mitigation Project.

— Follow reporter Laura Carrell on Twitter @CourierLauraC. To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh.