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Cedar Rapids applies for grant for 8th Avenue bridge replacement

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8th Ave Bridge Conceptual Design
A conceptual design of the new 8th Avenue bridge
2008 flood snip
An aerial view of the Cedar River in June 2008, showing several submerged bridges.
Rusted rail
A rusted rail on the current bridge.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) - In June 2008, historic flooding made getting around Cedar Rapids virtually impossible.

"Originally, the city thought, 'We need to shut down the interstate just so we can use it for emergency services,'" Rob Davis said, who was the manager for the city's building services department in 2008.

Every one of the city's downtown bridges was underwater and thus, Interstate 380 was the only way to get from one side of town to the other.

"We worked out a compromise where one lane was solely for emergency services and two lanes were for through traffic. It just wasn't enough," Davis said.

An aerial view of downtown Cedar Rapids in June 2008.

Davis remembers driving down to Wright Brothers Boulevard by the Eastern Iowa Airport to get any freeway access.

The city had record flooding again in 2016 and while not all downtown bridges went underwater, they still had to be closed because the water was only two or three feet away from the road.

Davis is now the head of the Flood Control System Program and believes they have a solution.

The city wants to replace the 8th Avenue bridge with a new bridge 15 feet higher than the original. Davis says this will keep the city moving in times of severe flooding.

"We need to have a flood control system that's open all the time. So, we can go on business as usual for the economy, for people's jobs," he said.

The city submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation's RAISE Program this month for $20 million for the project.

The current bridge was built in 1937 and while Davis says there are no structural issues with it, it does have a lot of chipped concrete and rusted railing.

"It's what you'd expect for an 84-year-old bridge," he said.

The new bridge is proposed to have only one support beam in the river. The current bridge has seven. Davis says this will help the river flow more easily.

"By putting only one bridge pier in the river, our models show we can drop the river level eight or nine inches," Davis said.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors, both major hospitals, the Cedar Rapids Community School District and more and all sending letters to the DOT this week in support of the city's application. Davis says they want to show it's a community-wide need.

"It's extremely important for all of us and that's why we need to demonstrate this is a regional issue," he said.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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