Council weighs options on Center Street viaduct project

T-R PHOTOS BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Marshalltown Public Works Director Heather Thomas addresses the city council on options for the Center Street viaduct project during Monday night’s meeting.

After previously discussing the matter during a regular meeting on Dec. 28, the Marshalltown city council again heard from Public Works Director Heather Thomas to consider options for the repair of the Center Street viaduct.

Thomas reported one encouraging piece of news on the project: the city has received approval from the Union Pacific railroad and can now put it out to bid without being required to upgrade the railing.

She then, however, shared that the hope of starting construction in 2023 has been dashed due the lead times for the materials, and an attempt to use the emergency procurement process for materials “did not go well” because of the costs that came with it. An estimate from last month projected the construction cost at around $1.9 million, but the quotes received so far have pushed that projection to $2.9 million. Thus, the city is facing a funding shortfall of around $958,000.

From there, Thomas laid out four potential courses of action to the council. The first is the current plan, which would include replacing roller bearings, finger expansion joints and deck drains, repainting the existing pedestrian railings, repairing the Gun Club north abutment with an overlay on top and some abutment slab work.

The second option would be slightly cheaper as it would not include repainting the railings, and the third option would also remove the north abutment work to make it the cheapest of all of them. The first three options would involve letting in the spring of 2023 with construction to begin in 2024.

From left to right, City Clerk Alicia Hunter, Mayor Joel Greer and City Administrator Jessica Kinser look on during Monday night’s city council meeting.

The fourth option would include the full project, but it would require the city to apply for additional grants and likely delay construction until late 2025. Thomas said she is “95 percent” confident the city could obtain a maximum grant of $1.5 million through the federal and state Highway Bridge Program, and they would find out by November or December of this year whether they had received it.

Despite the time delay, the upside of the fourth option, Thomas noted, is that the funding the city has already allocated plus the grant money would cover the entire cost according to current projections.

She then laid out some funding options to cover the shortfall, including reallocating existing bonds or earmarking the next round of General Obligation (GO) bonds and using Road Use Tax funds as an “interim” financing option. Other options she described as “less desirable” were pulling from road use tax cash on hand and a small contribution from Local Option Sales Tax (LOST).

Councilor Dex Walker told Thomas they had already been in discussions about how bad the viaduct was, and he expressed his support for anything that would expedite construction.

“I’m for an option that gets this moving sooner rather than later because it’s absolutely horrible,” Walker said. “But if we were to delay it, is there anything we could do at that finger joint that makes all of our cars shake and our tires pop while we wait until construction could begin? Is there a plate, a filling, something?”

Tony Bower of Stanley Consultants also attended the meeting via Zoom and, along with Thomas, shared some ideas on short term fixes. Thomas said there was an option to cut off some of the finger joints that stick up on the road, and Bower also mentioned putting a temporary plate over that area.

“Neither of those are ideal, and neither of those are long-term solutions. But if the interest is to pursue this additional funding source, those are both viable options to get us there to put kind of a temporary Band-Aid on this problem in order for that money to become available,” Bower said.

Councilor Mike Ladehoff asked if the viaduct itself would hold up until 2025, and Thomas said she wanted to make sure that if they recommended delaying action, they would not cause a safety concern. At this time, she said she was not aware of a safety issue.

Bowers added that as long as the bearing and joints are repaired within the next few years, he was confident about the prospect of extending the life of the structure by “quite a bit.” Councilor Jeff Schneider then noted that at some point, the Center Street viaduct will need to be shut down to traffic, and he wondered how it would be controlled as the other two major viaducts — South Sixth Street in particular — are already quite busy.

Thomas said that at the request of the fire department, Public Works is already planning to widen the intersection of Sixth Street and High Street, and the Third Avenue viaduct will serve as the official detour.

Councilor Gary Thompson was skeptical about the continually increasing prices — which Thomas estimated at around $11 million through all three phases — and opined that it would make more sense to demolish the viaduct altogether and build a new one with four lanes.

“I guarantee you we won’t put $11 million into a new viaduct because the federal government loves building new things. They don’t like repairing old things,” he said. “So I think this council, as stewards of the taxpayers’ money, we shouldn’t put a dime into this because we’ve already wasted three years. And who knows what the final cost is gonna be?”

In response, Thomas said she was not comfortable saying the local share of the cost would be any less if the city waited and applied for funding to build a new viaduct. Thompson said that when he was young, Marshalltown only had two viaducts, and since there are four now, they could probably make do with three.

Fellow Councilor Gabe Isom made his opposition to demolishing the current viaduct known, calling it a gateway to the downtown area and asked about any potential ways to offset some of the cost increases.

Bower told Schneider that Stanley Group could procure a cost estimate for short-term mitigation efforts within the next few weeks.

The only public comment on the matter came from Jim Shaw, who asked about the timeline and expressed support for Thompson’s idea of a four-lane bridge. Thomas responded that she would like the project done within one construction season, which would likely mean four to six months.

City Administrator Jessica Kinser said she would plan to bring back a short-term mitigation cost estimate for the Feb. 13 meeting.

In other business, the council:

• Approved the consent agenda as listed.

• Approved a Class C retail alcohol license with outdoor service area for Haley’s Deli Barbecue and catering by a 6-1 vote with Councilor Al Hoop opposing.

• Approved the third and final reading of an ordinance establishing a stormwater advisory committee.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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