Southeast Connector construction begins

Workers began construction on two sections of the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway extension this year. The project is important, city officials say, because it will spur industrial development southeast of downtown. Officials hope eventually to connect the road to U.S. Highway 65.

The piece from Southeast Ninth Street to Southeast 15th Street, which will cost about $7.13 million, is under construction by Elder Corp. That section is expected to be completed next fall. The contract to extend the road from Southeast 15th Street to Southeast 30th Street was awarded to C.J. Moyna & Sons Inc. for $31.17 million. Work on that section is scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2016. The first piece is being funded with Federal Surface Transportation program and city funds, and the second piece is being funded with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, as well as with money from the Federal Surface Transportation Program, the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy and the city.

UPDATE: Metro road projects 

Andy Loonan, District 1 field services coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation, provided updates on several metro area road projects.

Interstate 35 expansion south of Interstate 235

Progress: Workers are reconstructing the southbound lanes to the Raccoon River this year and will work on constructing the northbound lanes next year in order to expand the interstate to six lanes.

Expected completion: Southbound construction is expected to 
be done this fall.

Cost: $100 million

Rebuilding the Adventureland interchange

Progress: Workers are adding lanes to the eastbound exit from Interstate 80 to U.S. 65 and Adventureland Drive. They are also adding capacity on the interstate from that exit to exit 143 about a mile and a half to the east. Though there have been no safety problems there in the past, traffic gets backed up at times, officials say.

Expected completion: The project is expected to be finished in 2015. Loonan said work will be suspended during the winter. 

Cost: $45 million

Adding a lane on Interstate 235 in Windsor Heights

Progress: Workers are constructing an auxiliary lane to free up traffic and increase safety. The project is about 75 percent complete. 

Expected completion: The project should be finished around Thanksgiving, Loonan said. 

Cost: $5.5 million

DART promotes metro bus improvements

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) officials tried to highlight positive changes by offering free rides on DART buses Oct. 6-12. The free rides week attracted a 20 percent increase in riders over the previous week. DART also recently launched its new MyDART Trip Planner tool on its website, which allows riders to enter their origin and destination, and gives them the bus routes and schedules to complete the trip. It’s the latest in a series of changes over the past 18 months that include route changes and additions, extended service hours and the opening of DART Central Station. “We want to give people every reason in the world to check out the new and improved transit system,” said Gunnar Olson, the agency’s public affairs manager. One of DART’s big state and federal legislative priorities going into next year is to secure funding for a bus rapid transit line that would run on Ingersoll and University avenues between downtown and 42nd Street.

State looking at new ways to pay for roads 

Iowa faces a critical road funding shortfall of $215 million per year, according to Department of Transportation estimates, and the word at the federal and state level is that there won’t be much additional funding anytime soon, said Todd Ashby, executive director of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino recently told The Des Moines Register that the DOT will release a report on alternative funding methods to raising the state gas tax, which has been an unpopular choice in the Iowa Legislature. Ashby told the Business Record that “finding innovative ways to finance projects going forward will be key.” That could include more public-private partnerships, toll roads or even a sales tax for road funds. 

Passenger rail in jeopardy

A proposed passenger rail line from Chicago to Iowa City is in doubt after Iowa Sen. Matt McCoy, a proponent of the line and chairman of the Senate’s transportation budget subcommittee, told The Des Moines Register last week that he is giving up on efforts to match federal funding for the line. McCoy, a Democrat, blamed House Republicans for refusing to allocate state funding to match a $53 million federal grant for the line, which likely would eventually come through Des Moines. An Iowa Department of Transportation study is underway to examine the feasibility of a line from Chicago to Omaha through Des Moines, and Gov. Terry Branstad told reporters this week that he would wait for the results of that study before deciding whether to return the $53 million. The Greater Des Moines Partnership has been a proponent of bringing passenger rail through the city, and CEO Jay Byers told the Business Record that it continues to be a priority. “While we are fully aware of the challenges in front of us, we look forward to continuing to work with the Iowa General Assembly, the governor, the Iowa Department of Transportation and all of our partners from across the state in moving this project forward,” Byers said in a statement.