by Bekah Porter

CORRIDOR – Business owners looking to locate to Cedar Rapids can anticipate eight miles of prime space to become available in the next few years.

With the Iowa Department of Transportation finally committed to expanding Highway 100, local leaders say it’s only a matter of time before new companies crop up on the streets surrounding the soon-to-be thoroughfare.

Recently, the DOT announced the long sought-after highway expansion as part of its five-year plan, and the news caused much celebration for the community that has spent more than four decades pitching and pleading for the $150 million project.

In the 1960s, a group of local business owners approached the DOT about expanding the existing Highway 100.

“Even back then, it just made sense to have that inner beltway crossing the community,” said Allen Witt, immediate past chair of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and a longtime advocate of the expansion. “They had the foresight to see that the community would need this new stretch of road.”

The need for the extra eight miles of road became even more apparent as Collins Road effectively stopped functioning as a highway and started functioning as a city street, said local DOT officials.

“I don’t think anybody would call Collins Road an expressway,” said Cathy Cutler, transportation planner for the Iowa Department of Transportation District No. 6 out of Cedar Rapids. “It is obviously needed, and there are great businesses along that stretch, but it doesn’t serve the needs of people coming from the west side of the community to work.”

Collins Road serves as the road with the highest employment numbers, as job giants Rockwell Collins and Lindale Mall are located yards away from it. However, Mr. Witt said, even with the scheduled expansion that will increase Collins Road from four lanes of traffic to six lanes, it will not be enough to handle the increasing number of commuters coming from the city’s ever-growing west side.

“This street is an economic engine for our community, so nobody wants to see it go, but everybody would like to see it operate more efficiently,” Mr. Witt said.

Additionally, he said, the community needs to offer more safe passageways for its commuters. An average of two people die annually on I-380 in the Cedar Rapids area, according to Mr. Witt, and this new expansion could help cut down on the traffic on the interstate, which in turn could help decongest problem areas with heavy usage.

“This new road could literally save lives,” he said.

As of now, the eight mile expansion is in its design phases, but those close to the project say it would be a four lane expressway stretching from Edgewood Road to Highway 30 around the west side of Linn County. Five interchanges would connect the highway to the community. The main aspect of the expansion would be a bridge over the Cedar River.

“As of right now, this is the largest road project scheduled in Iowa,” Mr. Witt said.

And it comes at a high cost.

The bridge alone will cost $25 million with the remainder of the work costing about $125 million. Already the corridor’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is composed of all the major cities in Linn County as well as the county itself, has allocated $3 million toward the project, and the federal government has promised $1.5 million.

According Ms. Cutler, a project like this in Iowa would typically have the federal government paying about 80 percent and the state paying the remaining 20 percent.

“The community will have to talk to their representatives,” she said.

However, she added that now was the time to have these discussions, as the flood of 2008 demonstrated how vital it is for the community to have a second route over the river in case of natural disasters.

“We need to strike while the iron’s hot,” she said.

And if the community does, she anticipates a mixed use area similar to that of Coralville.

Ms. Cutler referenced the Coral Ridge Mall and how it sat off the highway when she talked about the upcoming project.

“Businesses are not going to be able to sit right on the highway,” she said. “Instead, it would be exactly like I-80 and the Coral Ridge Mall, where you could see it from the highway, and people would be able to use the interchanges to get to their shops and stores. It would be exactly like that, and as you know, in Coralville, that became a mixed-use area where there were new companies and new stores and new housing. And I think that could be the same in Cedar Rapids, as this would be in the fastest-growing area in town.”