The top three city council goals for 2022-2024 are all street projects in some form. This tells city administrator Matt Muckler that staff and elected officials know there are important projects to complete, such as the council’s No. 2 goal: Phase 1 of the downtown street project. It is estimated to cost $1.34 million.
Muckler said the project affects North Second Avenue from West Third Street over to East Fourth Street. Sections of this area have already been addressed by the city in the past. A few years ago the city poured new asphalt on the north, east and west sides of the town square.
“We’re not going to dig that up and redo that since that was just recently done,” Muckler said, noting the city is trying to address other untouched areas. “From West Second over to West Third, for instance, that would be a project that would similar to what you’re seeing on the four blocks south of First Avenue right now.”
Over time the city will given attention to the areas around North Third Avenue and North Fourth Avenue. Muckler said crews will address curbs and gutters and do a mill and overlay for the 200 block of North Second Avenue West, then do similar streetscape projects from East Second Street through East Fourth Street.
“We’ll put in the area where our snowplows can push the snow and we don’t have to haul out,” he said. “It’s going to save a lot of time when we’re doing snow hauling operations, in addition to fixing the street which desperately needs to be done as well.”
The streets will be widened slightly in addition to the surface enhancements.
Overall, Muckler said the city has taken a hard look at street projects, even outside the downtown district. For instance, the city and council members eventually want to address South 12th Avenue West near the Casey’s and Phillips 66 gas stations off of Highway 14.
West 19th Street South is also a road council wants to address at some point. The road leads to an Iowa Department of Transportation facility, hotels just off the 164 exit of Interstate 80 and restaurants like Hardee’s, Culver’s, Perkins and Okoboji Bar & Grill. Muckler said that stretch of road is in rough shape.
“Obviously we’re doing mill and overlays throughout all four wards and we try to do that as often as we can,” Muckler said. “We’ve been doing that about every other year … We’ve done a lot of things out in the neighborhoods and we feel like we’ve got to take care of our downtown as well. Can’t let it go.”
Some downtown streets are in “really bad shape” but can’t be done all in one time, which is why the project has been broken into five phases.
Newton Public Works Director Jody Rhone said downtown streetscape projects have been in the works since the late 1980s or early 1990s. Typically, the city narrows the street, pull in the curb and gutters and create the streetscape design with lamps, trees sidewalks and a greenspace to store snow.
“It does multiple things,” Rhone said of the streetscape projects. “It beautifies it. The goal is to make the entire downtown area uniform in looking this way but unique from the rest of the streets in the city of Newton. So you know when you’re entering the downtown district.”
The city’s downtown is from East Fourth Street to West Fourth Street from North Fourth Avenue to South Second Avenue.
Rhone said most locals know what the downtown district is without even realizing it. But the designs specifically benefit out-of-towners visiting Newton. It provides a more pleasing and consistent aesthetic. Public works especially likes the streetscape project because it cuts down on snow hauling in the winter.
Current streets like North Fourth Avenue and South Second Avenue already have their fully realized streetscape look, including the greenspace. Snowplows are able to move the snow over the curb and onto the grass, which creates a natural snow storage area. This lets staff spend less time hauling away the snow.
“Those same people that are hauling that snow are the same people that are plowing the snow, cleaning the corners, doing all the other snow removal activities so we can give a higher level of service,” Rhone said, noting staff would be able to address more re-freezes with less hauling to do.
It is a massive amount of time, effort and costs to haul the snow away from the downtown district, he added. By redesigning the street, Rhone said the city can eliminate millions of dollars worth of costs over the years by plowing the snow over in a grass strip and letting it melt.
The downtown streets project will be paid with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars from the North Central Urban Renewal Area.