Aug 07

Lansing bridge meeting Tuesday

April 17, 2015: Iowa end of the Black Hawk Bridge in Lansing. Many more pictures of the bridge and intersection are on my Lansing page. The bridge piers are 120 feet too close to each other for modern navigation standards.

More than a decade after an exhaustive, in-depth study (PDF) of the Black Hawk Bridge and surrounding area, the Iowa DOT is inching forward on replacement of the distinctive 1931 structure. A public meeting will be held Tuesday about possibilities for both the location and design of a new bridge.

As the now-online documents show (PDF), this is about Step 1½ of a long process that will take two years just to advance the environmental assessment.

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Aug 04

Does US 30 need four-laning in eastern Iowa?

Ever since the mid-1960s, US 30 has been viewed as an eventual four-lane corridor across the state of Iowa. Over the years, it’s been improved in fits and phases across eastern and central Iowa, while the western part has fallen by the wayside.

In the next five years, there will be a complete four-lane US 30 from Ogden to Lisbon. That leaves a 44-mile (or so) two-lane portion between the end of the future Mount Vernon-Lisbon bypass and US 61. The Iowa Transportation Commission has “U.S. 30 corridor prioritization” on its meeting agenda for this month, which I think relates to this.

But — and I fully understand I may be about to commit heresy here — is four-laning 30 between Lisbon and US 61 the thing to do? Here’s my thinking behind this.

  • Traffic count drops substantially in this corridor compared with what’s west and east. See the 2014 AADT map. Between Stanwood and Grand Mound it’s comparable to US 63 in Tama County, although truck traffic is higher.
  • The four-lane will have to be built from scratch. Current 30 goes through seven towns on this stretch. The railroad parallels the highway throughout. To avoid the towns (and to avoid Yankee Run, a stream that parallels 30 on the south between Clarence and the Wapsipinicon River), a new roadbed would have to extended due west from a totally rebuilt south 30/61 interchange, not angle north until Wheatland, and then stay at least a mile away from the current road. Unlike new US 20 in western Iowa, the new alignment will not be a straight line and there will be many more houses and natural features to deal with. And the EISs. OMG, the EISs.
  • This part of the corridor may not serve as a popular alternative to I-80. IMO, it’s highly unlikely this would be built as a controlled-access freeway. Going through Clinton, a two-lane in Illinois, and a toll I-88 all work against US 30 being a long-distance alternative to the east. While US 30/61 could serve as a relief route for I-380/80 between Cedar Rapids and Davenport, how much would cross traffic and a 65-mph speed limit cut that attractiveness?
  • The bright(ish) side for historic preservationists would be that the necessity of a new four-lane corridor could leave the Lincoln Highway and the new “old 30″ intact — except maybe between Lisbon and Stanwood. That’s also the segment I could see being four-laned apart from the rest with the most need (traffic-wise) and least difficulty.

Instead of plowing ahead (if decades-in-the-making can be called such) with finishing the US 30 corridor here, I think serious consideration should be given to speeding up a timetable for six-laning I-80 between Davenport and Iowa City, and I-380 south of Cedar Rapids. That needs to be done anyway. Increasing capacity in those corridors could alleviate some of the traffic on 30 today.

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Aug 03

Clear Creek Amana plans for a new high school. Again.

Less than a decade after opening a new high school facility and 3½ years after approving a bond issue for a fourth elementary school, Clear Creek Amana needs more room.

On Sept. 12 — the same day Gladbrook-Reinbeck will vote on whether to blow itself up — the district that crossed the 2000-enrollment threshold last year is putting forth a $36 million bond issue. According to the Solon Economist/North Liberty Leader, this is the first of two planned bond issues. This one would cover a fifth elementary school, a new gym in Amana, and more classrooms at the high school. (The current high school opened in 2009 connected to the existing building on the same campus, everything with a purple roof in this picture. The leftmost gray-roofed part is even newer.)

A second bond issue, planned for 2022, would go to an all-new high school and a sixth elementary. At its current growth rate, the district would be twice the size it was at the turn of the century, but it “was determined the district is better off with one large high school rather than two smaller facilities,” the Economist/Leader reported. Logistically, it would be very difficult for CCA to split because all the growth is on the far east side, making it so unbalanced it’s at risk of capsizing.

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Aug 02

Gladbrook-Reinbeck dissolution vote set


On July 17 the Gladbrook-Reinbeck school board accepted the dissolution committee’s proposal on division of the district and set a vote for Sept. 12 concurrent with regular school board elections. A yes vote is to end the district; a no vote is to keep GR intact.

Approval of dissolution would require the residents of Reinbeck (and, by extension, Lincoln and Morrison) to voluntarily give up their school, and barring some sort of voter-impairing epidemic that stops at the county line, that is not going to happen.

A reader asked, why couldn’t part of the GR district be transferred? I thought I had an answer, and then after more study I think it is less a legal impossibility than a practical one. (But only very barely so.)

From this point on, remember this is a layman’s interpretation. IANAL, YMMV, etc. This is really a job for the Legislative Services Agency or possibly the Attorney General’s Office, but I don’t have that sort of pull.

Iowa Code Section 275 covers school reorganization. There are these passages:

The provisions of sections 275.1 to 275.5, relating to studies, surveys, hearings and adoption of plans shall constitute a mandatory prerequisite to the effectuation of any proposal for district boundary change.

A proposal for merger, consolidation, or boundary change [emphasis added] of local school districts shall first be submitted to the area education agency board following the procedure prescribed in this chapter.

That would seem to say that such an action is possible, but only after extensive studies and assessments of the potential new district. Who petitions?

The petition shall be signed by eligible electors residing in each existing school district or portion affected equal in number to at least twenty percent of the number of registered voters in the school district or portion affected, or four hundred eligible electors, whichever is the smaller number.

While a dissolution petition requires signatures from 20% of registered voters in the district affected (GR), a boundary-change petition would require signatures from other existing districts involved (GMG). Now, is it 20% of the GR area that would be detached plus 20% of the existing GMG district or 20% of the combined new area? I think it’s the latter but I’m not sure. Either way, residents of GMG would have to get involved.

The petition in question would have to spell out the boundaries of the new district and how school board members will be elected. No existing school board is going to touch this with a thousand-foot pole. Announcing you intend to destabilize your neighbors through poaching is uncouth, unfriendly, and reserved for commissioners of college conferences.

The Code goes into great detail on if a territory spreads across multiple AEAs (GR does, in fact, span the original Area 6 and Area 7, but that’s irrelevant). It appears silent on what recourses, if any, an existing K-12 district in good standing has against an external petition that involves but does not absorb the district. The rump Reinbeck district would need to have a certified enrollment above 300 to continue existing, but beyond that, I’m not sure. For that matter, it doesn’t talk about existing school corporations that would have to be superseded for control of the area.

Gladbrook residents who wanted to save their school failed in the courts and likely will fail in trying to dissolve the district entirely. If they want to keep trying, digging into the above strategy might be an option until someone says they can’t.

Posted in Schools, Tama County | Comments Off
Aug 01

Wide IA 9 shield in Waukon

KCRG had a story last week about Waukon’s preparations as a host town for RAGBRAI. At the 2:01 mark of the video above is a shot of downtown. There is a “Jct 9″ assembly visible — and the 9 is on a wide shield. That’s ridiculous.

(It seems that Iowa’s conformation to MUTCD standards is deliberately set to create things that annoy me. But since 9 is a single-digit highway, this is not an issue with the MUTCD but an error.)

Posted in Iowa Miscellaneous | Comments Off
Jul 31

Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good old days

While taking a short trip recently, I didn’t take the iPod and bounced around on the radio instead. I was delighted to come across a station playing REAL country music — the ’90s songs I have had on CDs and my iPod forever.

Don’t Take the Girl“! “John Deere Green“! “Should’ve Been a Cowboy“! (And the title of this post, from 1985.)

Then came the bumper.

“They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Classic Country, KMJM.”

The “Class of 2021″ T-shirt seen earlier in the day just wasn’t enough.

Semi-related: Pretty Soon, Apple Just Won’t Make iPods Anymore (New York magazine); The Apple Products That Defined Your Youth Are Now Extinct (Refinery29)

Posted in Iowa Miscellaneous | Comments Off
Jul 28

Minnesota, ISU coaches share birth date a year apart

The Big 12 and Big Ten have both had their football media days now, and I have noticed a disturbing trend: There are coaches there who are approximately my age peers. This started with Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury (Aug. 9, 1979), since he and I overlapped in college, but now there are more.

Last season, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell was the youngest coach of a power-conference team, and fifth-youngest in Division I-A, according to a graphic on TV during one of ISU’s games last season. Campbell was born Nov. 29, 1979. Kirk Ferentz was an assistant coach at Worcester Academy. Hayden Fry and Bill Snyder were in their first year as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, at Iowa.

One of the four younger coaches was Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, who was hired in the offseason at Minnesota. He is now “rowing the boat” there in the absolutely most un-Minnesota-like manner imaginable, raising the potential for comedy, tragedy, or tragicomedy in the Big Ten West.* Fleck was born Nov. 29, 1980. Kirk Ferentz was an assistant coach at Pitt.

Then, of course, there’s Lincoln Riley taking over for Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, who is the first Power Five coach born during the Reagan administration. When Riley was born Sept. 5, 1983, Kirk Ferentz was an assistant coach at Iowa and Jim Harbaugh was starting his freshman year at Michigan.

*And threatening Nebraska’s grip on all three.
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Jul 27

Three all-private semifinals in state baseball tournament

Three of the eight semifinal matchups in the 2017 Iowa high school state baseball tournament will be between private schools.

Mason City Newman and Remsen St. Mary’s, Dyersville Beckman and Iowa City Regina, and Davenport Assumption and Dubuque Wahlert all play in the next two days.

In the Class 1A field, either Newman or RSM has made the final four every year for 11 years (Newman was eliminated in the first round in 2006). The matchup will guarantee one private school in the championship game, as there has been every year except three in the past quarter-century.

In Class 2A, with Carroll Kuemper lurking on the other side of the bracket, that class has potential for a third all-private championship game this school year, and that’s only because Western Christian and Regina played the 1A title game in football.

Tangentially related: Last week’s epic Class 2A softball championship game had seven runs scored in the SIXTEENTH inning, and the Ottumwa Courier’s recap is worth your time. (Regina won on an EBF error.)

Posted in Schools, Sports | Comments Off
Jul 26

Anchors, away

July 9, 2017: The Sears store in Peru, Illinois, will close before the end of the year.

Peru, Illinois — I needed a pit stop, Wi-Fi, and food, in that approximate order. Peru Mall, the only major shopping center on I-80 between Davenport and Joliet and the first one directly on I-80 east of Coralville, was an easily accessible option for the first two.

It ended up being an experience I wasn’t expecting.

After I walked past the theater entrance and an arcade with no one in it on a hot summer Sunday, I passed one of the mall’s interior intersections. Three of the four corners were vacant. It was only slightly better down the main hallway (and forget about a food court). In the other direction was Sears, whose eventual closure had been announced days before. That doubled the mall’s pain because J.C. Penney was already in liquidation mode, selling everything at 70% off. The mall had announced a month earlier it would close an hour earlier six days a week and lop two hours off Sunday time.

This isn’t my first dead mall, so to speak; Southridge in Des Moines began spiraling after Jordan Creek opened or even before then since Montgomery Ward was an original anchor. Half of the interior was demolished in 2012 for revitalization — not too long after the J.C. Penney closed, and a few years before it also lost its Sears — but that mall’s issues had an external factor and the Great Recession in general. Southridge still has a Younkers and a Target. (I haven’t been to Crossroads in Waterloo in years and now I’m a little afraid to look.)

This experience at Peru Mall was the first to make me think Oh, that collapse in retail. It looked emptier than it did even in Nathan Bush’s photo gallery from December 2012. After JCP and Sears go, the mall’s largest stores left will be Marshalls and Jo-Ann Fabrics. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Sears’ serious financial woes and waves of closures threaten a cascade of bad effects for malls across the country.

Even if the JCP was already out of three-button shirts in my size, at least the Wi-Fi was top-notch and trouble-free.

Posted in Trip Reports | Comments Off
Jul 25

St. Ansgar school building preserved, for now

In contradiction of a Mitchell County Press-News story that I blogged about 11 months ago, the St. Ansgar school board reversed its decision to sell its 1928 school building to the city development council.

A nonprofit group formed a counterproposal to buy and preserve the school building. The board agreed in December (PDF of minutes). The nonprofit bought the building for $100 and has nearly $50,000 in donations and pledges. There is a bit of a catch: If the group cannot make a profitable go of it by Oct. 1, 2019, the building will be demolished.

I missed this when it happened, but the Gazette has an article for its Iowa Ideas magazine/symposium (employer plug!) about St. Ansgar attracting new residents, and it includes photos and information about saving the school.

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