Johnson County MPO: Bikes, cars & buses, but no train

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Corridor residents hoping for passenger rail will need to wait a little longer. But they can bide time by helping to shape long-range planning of existing Johnson County MPO transit options.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County held the first of three public workshops Wednesday night in North Liberty. The meetings are an opportunity for citizens interested in the future of public transit, roads and trails to give input on long-range planning projects.

Future Forward 2045” is a document that outlines how the metropolitan communities — Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin and University Heights, as well as the county areas immediately adjacent to those communities — will invest in transportation. This type of planning is also a requirement for state and federal funding.

Feedback is being solicited in three areas: road/bridge projects, public transit and bicycle/pedestrian projects. A separate space is also designated for feedback that doesn’t naturally fit in the core areas.

An Iowa City Transit bus moves arrives the station on East Washington Street in Iowa City.  Johnson County MPO
An Iowa City Transit bus moves arrives the station on East Washington Street in Iowa City. (Justin Wan/The Gazette)

Local governments submitted a variety of possible improvements and Johnson County MPO is hoping the public will help prioritize the possibilities.

“That’s what we are hoping to get tonight,” said Kent Ralston, MPOJC executive director, in response to an audience question on how the 109 submitted road projects will be winnowed.

“What we want to know is if the public wants to move forward with these projects. That’s what we will relay back to the communities as we go through the actual writing of the plan.”

Of the various road and bridge projects, 44 originated in Iowa City, 34 in Coralville, 13 in Tiffin, and 9 each in North Liberty and University Heights.

There are 15 bike and pedestrian options, broken into 22 projects. They range from constructing a tunnel through the railroad embankment on Riverside Drive in Iowa City to building a sidewalk between Penn Meadows Park and the railroad in North Liberty.

With limited funds for public transit, Johnson County MPO is interested in learning how the public ranks needs. For instance, is it more important to expand hours, or increase bus frequency?

Expanding public transit to connect the Corridor remains unlikely, especially in terms of passenger rail.

“We do have a steering committee,” Johnson County MPO transportation planner Brad Neumann said. “We also have a study that I believe is the third one in the past 10 years.”

The latest study, he said, was a little different because it was the owner of the rail lines approaching planning leaders. Yet, funding remains a huge obstacle, especially if the goal is to connect the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City transit hubs.

An interim, less expensive option, at least until passenger density increases, may be to connect more distant parts of the Iowa City metro.

The public has two more opportunities to help shape long-range transportation planning in Johnson County. A workshop will be held at the Coralville Public Library on Thursday, April 7, beginning at 6:30. On April 12 the organization will conducted at workshop at the Iowa City Public Library, also beginning at 6:30 p.m.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on March 26, 2016. Photo credit: Justin Wan/The Gazette