FAQ's

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Project Costs

Given the current location of the bridge, can it be simplified and the cost decreased?

- Yes, simple access from one side of the river to the other could be accomplished for less money than the proposed compelling crossing experience. However, we studied the successes of other iconic trail bridges all over the country. No results are more compelling than those of the High Trestle Trail Bridge near Madrid, Iowa. Riders and trekkers from virtually all over the world are coming to Iowa for the experience provided by this iconic Iowa passage. The BBC website touts High Trestle Trail Bridge as one of the must-visit pedestrian bridges in the world. It’s our goal to have the Smokestack Bridge become a destination, similar to the High Trestle Trail Bridge.

Can the existing bridges be used for pedestrian/bicycle traffic?

- Adding a pedestrian/bicycle lane to an existing bridge potentially would require additional piers, which is costly. Safety is also a significant issue. The speed limits on bridges are higher than those in other areas downtown where bikes and cars share the road. Having a dedicated bridge for the anticipated increased bike and pedestrian traffic means fewer accidents overall. 

There are a number of compelling advantages of the proposed bifurcated bridge deck, some practical and some experiential. On the practical side, again, we studied the High Trestle Trail Bridge and noted one particular failure: had its designers known then of the thousands of trail users that would be drawn to the experience, a much wider bridge deck would have been allotted. The 12-foot width of the High Trestle is simply not enough to safely accommodate bikers and trekkers going in two directions in addition to users taking selfies and stopping to enjoy the view. The split deck of the Smokestack Bridge with its two 14-foot wide spans will encourage leisure enjoyment for families with strollers, fishers, skateboarders, seniors, disabled, as well as bikers making the trip from Iowa City to Cedar Falls.

It seems this project is City infrastructure in nature. What is the city’s role in this project?

- The grass roots efforts in Cedar Rapids can be extremely powerful and forward-thinking. The idea to revitalize Cedar Lake, as well as the plans to develop the Smokestack Bridge, came from local citizens in community groups wanting to improve the City. When our two groups joined to form ConnectCR, we went to the City of Cedar Rapids with our ideas. The City and community leaders have been very supportive of our vision.  

The City of Cedar Rapids has committed $5 million to the ConnectCR Project. This makes it the largest public/private partnership in the area. The private fundraising component leverages the public dollars to generate a more significant development. For instance, rather than a functional pedestrian bridge, the community will create a signature destination bridge that draws people to it and is a tribute to our unique industrial heritage. That is why we are committed to generating and finding dedicated monies for trail and recreation improvements and to garner support from user groups and corporate sponsors committed to creating citizen amenities geared toward bringing and retaining good citizens to our community.

Construction and Maintenance:

Who is responsible for construction?

- The City will be responsible for construction, consistent with the vision for ConnectCR. This is similar to recent community projects, like the McGrath Amphitheatre and Greene Square. Specific requirements will be outlined in an agreement between the City and ConnectCR Fundraising Committee to include:

o Key project features of Cedar Lake and Smokestack Bridge 

o Construction timeline with significant milestones

o Form and frequency of project status updates 

How will the bridge and lake be maintained when the City takes over?

- The City has committed to taking ownership of both Cedar Lake and the Smokestack Bridge. When the City takes ownership of Cedar Lake and the former CRANDIC railroad site, these will become part of the City’s Parks System and maintained as such. Projects will include intentional design elements to help maintain efficiencies and enhance sustainable characteristics. Ongoing maintenance will be part of the City’s overall property and park operations. City staff will continue to work closely with the design and construction to ensure the efficient long-term maintenance of these recreational amenities. 

What does future maintenance look like?

- The City’s Parks and Recreation Department prepares a 10-year Capital Improvement Plan that is updated annually to ensure future maintenance items are forecasted for budgeting. Cedar Lake and the Smokestack Bridge would be annually reviewed, as part of this standard process.

Acquisitions:

What is the status of the acquisitions of Cedar Lake and the bridge site?

- The City has committed through formal Council resolutions to acquire Cedar Lake and the former CRANDIC railroad site. The acquisition costs are not included in the ConnectCR project budget; the acquisitions will be completed by the City.

- Specific to Cedar Lake, the City has been working closely with Alliant Energy as the proper testing is completed. This is a standard process, part of typical due diligence, that proceeds the transfer of property. There have been no obstacles or surprises identified to date.

Aesthetics:

Where will the bridge be visible from downtown?

- The bridge is designed so that the top of the smokestack pylon will be seen from various vantage points downtown and in the neighborhoods. This location was chosen in order to take advantage of existing piers and steel supports from the old, abandoned Rock Island Railroad Bridge. It’s our plan to use these existing supports and piers for the bridge’s base versus having to dig and set new ones. Additionally, the main existing trail that comes from Johnson County is located on the west side of the river. There is no alternative for this river crossing except for the inadequate 16th Avenue Bridge. A river crossing is needed in this area, so trail users can cross to use the trails that continue through downtown Cedar Rapids and then go to the north. 

The highest point of the bridge will be 192 feet so that it may be seen when crossing all the downtown bridges including the interstate, especially when lit at night. Trees and berms along the interstate may impede viewing in some areas. 

What will the area around the lake look like?

- The ConnectCR plans include berms, tree and, where needed, barrier walls to shield certain areas. While not all industrial areas will be completely shielded at this time, the plans will help mute and buffer them to allow for an enjoyable recreational and aesthetic experience with these city assets. A new landscape architecture plan incorporates new recreational amenities and make areas that today look blighted, fresh and inviting for future generations to enjoy. 

What does it mean that the lake will be “cleaned”? 

- All Cedar Lake improvements that impact the existing sediment will be conducted in an appropriate manner, based on an approved mitigation plan. The City is also conducting a Watershed Study that will identify the characteristics of on-going storm water impacts, including recommendations of best practices to increase water quality.  

Will the lake be safe enough to swim in?

- The DNR removed the lake from the endangered waterways list in 2015 and declared the water safe, allowing for recreational use other than swimming. While there won’t be swimming at this time, it will be explored in the future as additional studies are done to ensure it’s safe for that purpose. The City of Cedar Rapids along with other interested parties is developing a watershed management plan that helps limit any pollutants that might enter Cedar Lake.

What is the vision for development in both areas?

- In addition to flood protection synergies, the two projects combined create connections with endless possibilities. Cedar Lake and the Smokestack Bridge are bookends of this extraordinary urban lake and trail attraction. The success of both are crucial to creating the kind of magnet that will draw recreationists from all over to travel from Iowa City to Cedar Falls with particular time in the Cedar Rapids area communities to enjoy incomparable biking, trekking, kayaking, canoeing, strolling, fishing and nature loving experiences. And, they will serve to keep our young citizens here as part of a thriving urban/rural environment.

On both sides of the river at the bridge landing areas, there are many recreational and development plans in the works. Mount Trashmore has scenic overlooks, trails, monarch pollinator zones and seating. On the east side, development continues in the NewBo area, and the trail cuts through the heart of where the T.M. Sinclair packing company stood for over a century, providing a living for many early Czech immigrants.

How will this project specifically connect the area trail system?

- The ConnectCR project will connect the Hoover Trail, the Cedar River Trail and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, and it will become a part of the American Discovery Trail traversing the nation from coast to coast.

Flood Protection:

How will the bridge be protected from future floods?

- The Flood Control System has already been constructed at the site of the Smokestack Bridge. The levee has been designed with the approach needs of the bridge in mind. This coordinated planning effort ensures the most effective and efficient use of materials. Further, flood protection on the west side will soon make access south to the existing Cedar River Trail impossible without the Smokestack Bridge.

During floods, pressure from water and debris can break apart the bracing system and lift the structure from its supports. Today, engineers design bridges to protect them from extreme weather and flood events. Decks and design structures will be above flood levels to avoid being hit with debris and structural elements will be designed to allow water to flow through and around piers and abutments. By building spans, we avoid the possibility of large objects hitting structural elements. Many aging structures were built with piers not set deeply into the riverbed. Newer ones benefit from being built with modern pile drivers that place piers deeper and provide a more solid foundation.

Additionally, it will be built above the height of the 2008 Cedar River flood level.

How will flooding affect the lake?

- Future flood protection will be incorporated into the lake design - protecting both the lake and more than 93 businesses in the area. With a better understanding and management of the lake, its water level and hydrology, we will be more prepared when rain and flood events do occur. 

How does it fit with the current need to construct flood walls? 

- The City is currently in the process of developing and implementing the Flood Control System Master Plan, a comprehensive flood protection plan that benefits both sides of the Cedar River. This plan involves the areas around Cedar Lake and the Smokestack Bridge. Advancing the vision for ConnectCR at the same time enables the ability to integrate these trail and recreational enhancements into flood protection.

Economic Impact:

 In Iowa, the economic impact of cycling is $364,864,202, and the healthcare costs saved by bicyclists is $73,942,511, according to IMPLAN, the nation’s leading provider of economic impact data to governments and academia.

It is also anticipated that ConnectCR will help boost the growing and thriving biking economy in the area.