Facelifts coming to I-380/I-80 interchange - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Facelifts coming to I-380/I-80 interchange

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JOHNSON COUNTY (KWWL) -

One of the state's busiest interstate interchanges is preparing for a major facelift after coming across a problem the state never anticipated.

A $300 million project is in the works for the spot where Interstate 80 and Interstate 380 meet in Johnson County. The interchange is south of Cedar Rapids and just west of the Iowa City area.

It's no secret that Johnson County is growing. North Liberty, Tiffin and Iowa City are some of the fastest growing communities in the state. They are also communities where many commute along the interstate for work with that comes more traffic and congestion. However, what wasn't expected was the growing number of semi-trucks on the road but not everyone agrees on how to fix the problem.

"All of those loops are going to be taken out and replaced with these directional lamps," Iowa DOT Transportation Planner, Cathy Cutler, explains as she traces a map of the interchange. "Traffic will go over and under each other."

Cutler said the interchange which was built in the 1960s has outlived it's useful life due to the significant amount of growing traffic and semis.

"We're up to about 40% trucks on Interstate 80. Nobody who planned this interchange back in the sixties ever thought we would have that many trucks," she said. Cutler said it's likely that when it was constructed, the roads consisted of 5-10% of semis. 

The tight loops from exiting onto I-80 from I-380 and vice-versa have been areas where semis have been known to tip over, causing safety and congestion concerns. Cutler said the area also has a higher than average number of crashes. The bulk of the construction wouldn't begin until 2020.

A portion of the plan also calls for the widening of I-380 from four lanes to six from I-80 to Forevergreen Road, which splits between Coralville and North Liberty. At Forevergreen Road, the DOT is also building a new exit which is expected to open in the fall of 2019.

"That's certainly going to open up a lot of opportunities. Not only for us but for Tiffin, Iowa. The thing is with the increased traffic more and more with Interstate 380 it's going to be a race track out there at times so, we feel, that expansions need to happen," North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue said.

Donahue said the opening and widening to Forevergreen Road will help with congestion at the city's exit at Penn Street which can backup so far during rush hour that it over spills onto the interstate. Penn Street is an area growing with new businesses for North Liberty.

"Plus, with GEICO and the credit union here, with GEICO coming online with potentially having 700 employees. That traffic is going to be generating a lot of people coming to work, as well," Donahue said.

Donahue recently wrote a letter of support to the DOT following a similar letter written by Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton where he, on behalf of the city, spoke against widening the interstate further.

Cutler said the DOT is in a study phase about what they need to do to manage traffic from the remaining portions of I-380 up to Cedar Rapids at Highway 20. She said the area being an automated vehicle testing proving ground, that they have to make sure they're forward thinking on the plans but it doesn't count out the idea of extending the road to six lanes, too.

Donahue said he sees that the changes would help the trucking industry.

"We have really successful trucking industries not only here but all the way up to the Cedar Rapids area, " he said. "That growth is phenomenal and so we want to encourage that inter-connectivity and help that develop that more and more from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids because we are known as the corridor."

"Basically, we think it is mistake to keep widening roads that isn't ever going to solve the congestion-delay problem at all. It won't solve it," Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said.

Throgmorton stated it may help congestion for a short time but he said the concept of induced demand would mean it would only bring more traffic.

"You widen a road and it induces further traffic on the road and real quickly you've got the same kind of congestion that you've had before. So, we think that's really misguided to keep doing that kind of thing," he said.

Throgmorton said he and other city officials have asked the DOT director to focus on analyzing alternative land use and transportation scenarios before the any more projects are done.

"Which looks into the future. If we don't do that, nothing is going to ever change and we're going to keep widening roads and the costs can be exorbitant,"  Throgmorton said.

One of the proposed ideas from Iowa City is continued focus on a commuter rail car which has long been in discussion. That would run from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City.

In October, a new bus route will travel from both cities. Throgmorton said they praise the DOT for initiating the bus and for supporting van and carpooling. It's public transportation initiatives like that, that the city wants to build on by looking forward by focusing at the interaction of transportation and land use.

A detailed plan about the changes coming to I-380 and I-80 can be found here.

The DOT will hold an information meeting on the study phase of I-380 and potential future changes of it on October 23. More details about the study and meeting can be found here.

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