Get used to road construction, Des Moines.
This year, the city is spending $100 million on street, sewer and bridge work, a record-high investment thanks in part to the 1-cent local option sales passed in 2019.
And the level of investment will remain high for construction seasons to come.
Before voters approved the sales tax, the City Council pledged to spend a portion of the proceeds on street improvements. Its goal was to revamp all 2,207 miles of Des Moines’ road network and retool the entire stormwater system to help control flooding and comply with a federal mandate to separate stormwater and wastewater pipes, said communications specialist Devin Perry.
Des Moines is in the midst of a seven-year plan, begun in 2020, that includes more than $427 million in street construction, repair and rehabilitation projects. That’s an average of $61 million per year, double the previous average of $30 million, according to the city.
As a result, the city has gone from 35 infrastructure projects in 2014 to 66 this year, said City Engineer Steve Naber.
“LOST, that put a ton of money toward paving streets,” he said. “So in the first 32 months, the city paved 33 lane miles of streets with the local option sales tax alone.”
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Major projects in Des Moines this year include:
- The third phase of Ingersoll Avenue’s total reconstruction, along with a new streetscape and bike lanes.
- The second phase of Fleur Drive’s reconstruction, water main replacement and sidewalk installation.
- Replacement of the Second Avenue bridge over Birdland Drive and repairs to the bridge over the Des Moines River.
- Replacement of the Southwest Ninth Street bridge over Middle South Creek, which connects the southern edge of Des Moines to Norwalk.
Both Ingersoll Avenue and Fleur Drive were in such poor condition that construction crews have had to essentially start from scratch. Instead of just pouring new pavement on top, they are tearing out concrete down to the dirt and building the street back up, Naber said.
The scheduled work on the Ingersoll Avenue project, which began in 2020 and stretches from Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway to Polk Boulevard, is expected to be complete in 2025, though the dates for a final phase of the streetscape work remain to be announced. Crews should wrap up on Fleur Drive next year.
“It’s a massive effort, and the contractors can’t rebuild all of Fleur Drive, replace the water main and put in new sidewalks between George Flagg Parkway and McKinley Avenue all in one year,” Naber said.
But, because the work is so intensive, there is good news: “It will never have to be reconstructed again in my lifetime,” he said.
Additional funding comes from a stormwater fee increase, passed in 2018 in response to historic flash flooding that destroyed hundreds of homes in Des Moines. The city has pledged to speed up improvements in four areas with sewer systems built in the 1930s and ’40s that are inadequate for the runoff from the intense storms that are becoming more frequent with climate change.
Work to install larger stormwater pipes and detention ponds is ongoing in the Beaverdale and Highland Park neighborhoods.
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Could there be even more money on street work with ARPA funds?
Cities across Iowa also are receiving an influx of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act, which can be spent on a variety of things, including infrastructure.
Cities and counties nationwide have allocated 12% of the $18.5 billion in COVD-19 relief money they’ve spent so far to infrastructure such as sewers, bridges, broadband and cybersecurity, according to the Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker, built by research institute Brookings. In all, they’re set to receive $350 billion.
Des Moines leaders are still determining where to spend the city’s $95 million in federal aid, though they’ve identified roadway improvements as one priority. A decision is expected mid-year.
Some other Des Moines metro governments have other plans for the money. Polk County Public Works Director Bob Rice said he has not asked the board of supervisors to spend ARPA funding on county roads. And officials from West Des Moines, Waukee and Urbandale say they too won’t be using federal aid for road construction.
In Urbandale, which is receiving $6.6 million, the City Council ranked roadway improvements fifth on a list of six priorities for the money, said spokesperson Derek Zarn. West Des Moines, which is receiving $7 million, plans to spend some of its money to offset cost overages due to supply chain issues in the project to bring Google Fiber to the city, but residents shouldn’t expect more street construction because of ARPA, said Brian Hemesath, city engineer.
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Indianola, however, has opted to spend the majority of its $2.4 million on new water mains, sanitary sewer and pavement on West Boston Avenue between North D and North F streets, said Charlie Dissell, community and economic development director. The project is expected to cost $2.2 million.
“Once the project is completed, the city will explore what we can do with any leftover money,” Dissell said.
Plus, another big chunk of federal money is coming Iowa’s way that could be spent on road construction. The state is expected to receive an estimated $5 billion for new roads, bridges, broadband and water projects from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
Here’s a look at some of the other major projects planned this construction season.
West Des Moines
A few projects may bring detours and delays. Portions of County Line Road from Veterans Parkway to Southeast Soteria Avenue will be closed for improvements until the fall as part of a $5.4 million project.
On the west side of the city, crews are nearly finished with the Ashworth Road bridge over Interstate 80. Ashworth has been closed between South 88th and North 88th streets amid work that will double the road to four lanes.
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Northeast 36th Street from Interstate 35 east to Northeast Four Mile Drive will be reconstructed as a four-lane street with new sewer, underground utilities and a traffic signal at Northeast Spectrum Drive, where a Costco store is planned. Construction is expected this spring.
Work to widen Northwest 36th Street between Northwest Ash Drive and North Ankeny Boulevard is ongoing. It will become a four- lane road with left and right turn lanes. Crews are expected to wrap up in the fall.
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A closure on Southeast Ashworth Road east of Grand Prairie Parkway is expected to last until August.
Another portion of Ashworth Road east and west of Ute Avenue is closed for widening and the addition of turn lanes. That project is in preparation for development in the area, including construction of the new Sugar Creek Elementary School, which is set to open in the fall.
City officials also hope to finish the final phases of improvements on Warrior Lane. A portion of the road in front of Waukee Middle School is closed to widen it to three lanes. All construction should wrap up by the end of the year.
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Crews will close a portion of 170th Street that runs past Radiant Elementary School for a reconstruction project between Meredith Drive and Waterford Road. Part of that project also includes a quarter mile of Meredith Drive east of 170th Street. Both of those roads will be expanded into four-lane streets with left-turn lanes. A bike lane will be added on the west side of 170th Street.
The project should start in the next two weeks and is expected to be completed by fall 2023.
More construction will affect drivers at Northwest Urbandale Drive and Plum Drive. Crews will widen streets to include a left turn lane. That work should be done by Thanksgiving.
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Traffic on Merle Hay Road in Johnston will likely slow as crews work to reconfigure its intersection with Northwest Johnston Road. They also plan to repave Merle Hay, add a new multi-use trail on the east side of the road between Beaver Creek and Northwest 55th Avenue, and extend Johnston Drive west of Merle Hay.
Starting Wednesday, traffic will shift to one lane in each direction. Merle Hay Road will close completely from 9 p.m. May 13 to 5 a.m. May 16.
Construction should last the whole season.
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Construction on First Avenue, which started in 2019, should wrap up in June. Crews are widening and rebuilding the road, as well as adding sidewalks and a pedestrian crossing. They also are adding a roundabout at the intersection of First Avenue and Ninth Street.
Staff writers Sarah Kay LeBlanc, Teresa Albertson and Chris Higgins contributed to this report.