Elkader Council discusses ongoing bridge, Carter Street projects

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

The Elkader City Council had money on its mind at its Dec. 28 meeting, as ongoing projects and a request from public works added to the financial stress of improving Elkader. 

First, the council received an update on the Keystone Bridge Rehabilitation, a project that currently costs over $295,000—an overall cost that is far higher than initial estimates. There are numerous explanations for why this has occurred. 

According to Mayor Josh Pope, it’s due to inflation since the project’s inception in 2016, as well as additions to the overall design. City administrator Jennifer Cowsert added “initial cost estimates can be on the low side if they don’t have a good feel for the complexity of the project. This project has gotten more complex as they determined the best way to address the structural integrity of the bridge.” 

Lead engineer Julie Neebel, of IIW, who was in attendance at the meeting, said rising costs have been due to additions to the initial design, such as storm sewer updates and walkway replacements. She added, “The primary costs are the structural improvements to the bridge, such as the new walkway, deck and limestone repairs.” 

The cost has led to some concern within the council, leading council member Bob Hendrickson to remark, “there just isn’t an open check book with this.” However, Hendrickson also felt the project is justified. “This is a centerpiece of our historical district and something I believe is certainly worth investing in,” he said. 

The financial concern also falls on Elkader residents through added cost to the tax levy. Unable to provide exact numbers, Cowsert did say that “between the two projects, it will be a couple of dollars per $1,000 taxable valuation.”  

Beyond cost, the bridge project will also result in a detour, which has raised questions about pedestrian and emergency vehicle crossing. According to Neebel, “Emergency vehicles will be allowed to cross the structure; however, some construction equipment or pedestrian fencing might need to be adjusted while the emergency vehicle crosses.” 

As for pedestrians, accommodations will be built in to allow for them to cross the bridge. 

The project will be bid in March, which would keep it on schedule to be finished during the summer of this year; however, this also comes with a hitch. “The plans have been submitted to the Iowa DOT for bid letting in March, however, an element of the project funding is that the project is bundled in the same bid package as a Bremer County bridge project.  There are some right of way complications for the Bremer County bridge that might delay bidding to April of 2021.  We won’t know until the beginning of February as to the actual bid date,” Neebel said. 

Another issue of financial concern was the request from Public Works Director Jason Scherf for a new street sweeper at an estimated cost of around $240,000. According to Scherf, the current model used by the city is over 20 years old and requires constant maintenance. Pope agreed with the assessment, commenting, “our current street sweeper has been on it’s last leg for awhile now,” and the repairs are a recurring problem. 

The justification for the purchase goes beyond the repairs, as Scherf explained, “The purpose of having the street sweeper is to keep the streets in town clean. We pick up a lot of dust, dirt, grime and garbage weekly with the sweeper. We, as a public works department, want to have Elkader looking as good as possible. So, this is a very important tool for us.”

Furthermore, the new street sweeper would double as a leaf vacuum, providing a new service to the community. “Since we can no longer burn the leaves, this allows us a way to collect them without residents putting them in bags,” Pope said. 

On this issue, Scherf mentioned, “I would like to perform a service where people no longer have to bag up their leaves. They would be able to rake them into the street and we could vac them up. Saving time for the residence. It’s my opinion that this vac truck has the most upside and benefit to the town. It does a better job picking up dust and debris, and with the vac system, it will pick up leaves more efficiently than a standard sweeper.”

While Scherf was not yet sure where the money for this piece of equipment will come from, the purchase currently has council support. 

The final issue of financial concern was the Carter Street project and the $180,000 that has already been spent, mostly on engineering. 

In an interview, Cowsert, said, “We received a revised timeline for the project, and I shared that with the council. I thought I had heard some comments from the council that they were still hesitant about the project, but after the last meeting, apparently that was only from one member.”

Then there was what Cowsert termed hiccups. “Having to go back and redesign it was an unexpected hiccup. Determining we were not eligible for CDBG funds was an unexpected hiccup. But hopefully we can get this bid and work can begin this construction season,” she said. 

The council discussion led to frustration from member Randy Henning, who commented that the council has been “doing this since 2015.” 

Pope suggested that the delay is, in part, because of the Keystone Bridge project. “We were waiting to hear about the funding for the bridge, so Carter Street was put on hold for a while,” he said.

Pope also heard some comments that required clarification. “I feel it is important to go forward with it, but had heard some comments from council that were not supportive. But they clarified that they are still in support so we will move forward,” he said. 

Addressing the concern, Hendrickson said, “because of the cost of the project, coupled with the cost of the bridge project, we as a council need to really look at these projects and their costs rather than just jumping right in. In both cases, I believe we have done just that.”

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