Upgraded I-35/I-80 Interchanges Increase Capacity for Growing Urbandale
An Economic Boost: Iowa DOT and the City of Urbandale Hope the Revamped I-35/I-80 Interchanges Add to Area Growth
Infrastructure projects are done for a multitude of reasons. The primary reasons a project is undertaken include safety/repair, capacity increase, and economic development. The three-pronged I-35/I-80 interchanges project in Urbandale, Iowa, involves each of these aspects.
Situated approximately eight miles northwest of Des Moines, Urbandale is a growing community. Currently, the city has nearly 45,000 residents and further growth is expected. The project will help the city properly deal with the growth.
The I-35/I-80 interchanges require multiple segments of work including an addition of a full diamond interchange. This interchange work began in 2016 and was completed in the spring of 2019. The second part of the project includes construction of a half diamond interchange connecting I-35/I-80 to a major thoroughfare. And the final portion involves the removal of existing loop ramps and construction of a flyover ramp. Construction began on this in the fall of 2018 and is expected to be complete in 2020.
The flyover bridge is 2,380 feet long and 36 feet wide. It starts at the same level as the road and rises to approximately 18 feet over the interstate and returns to ground level. “It’s not often that you see construction of a bridge nearly half a mile in length,” says John Larson, Assistant Director of Engineering for the city of Urbandale. Larson and his team review design plans and inspect construction projects.
All three segments of the project are being led by IDOT. Larson and Urbandale’s Engineering department are providing support. In addition, the city of Urbandale funded the 100th Street Interchange. Regarding the other parts of the project, they are being funded by a combination of state primary road funds and federal funding.
Concrete Technologies Inc., which served as the 100th Street Interchange paving contractor for the project, has been innovative in their work. Some of the paving for the interstate widening has been done with a stringless paver. “This has helped them save time and be more efficient with the paving,” says Larson. “It’s one of the first jobs they’ve done with this technology.”
Upon completion, the interstate will have four lanes in each direction while the previous Interstate had three. Larson notes the expansion is being done due to projections for future traffic amounts. They indicated that the highly trafficked road, which currently has 100,000 vehicles per day, is expected to grow to 125,000 to 130,000 by 2040.
Handling the traffic is one of the main challenges of the project. “Managing traffic flow on an interstate with 100,000 vehicles per day while building a curved steel girder bridge overhead has been a challenge,” says Jesse Tibodeau, a District Construction Engineer, for the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Besides the need to add capacity, the interstate is being reconfigured for safety. “There are 60 crashes per year related to backups on the interstate,” says Larson. “Traffic slowing down to get on the loop ramp and backing up on the interstate are causing accidents.”
The decision was made to remove the loop ramps and construct a flyover bridge and half diamond interchange. The existing interchange ramps, flyover bridge, along with the new half diamond interchange will function in combination as a single interchange.
Economic and Infrastructure Investment
The area where the work is taking place is known as the Urban Loop. However, it wasn’t always known as such. Residents of Urbandale had referred to the area as Rider Corner. This was the name of an old coalmine that dominated the area and was active until the mid-20th century.
Despite the coalmine being inactive for years, the name Rider Corner stuck. “The name was associated with negative things such as back-ups, congestion, and accidents,” says Curtis Brown, Urbandale’s Assistant City Manager/Director of Economic Development. Brown’s primary role is to focus on the city’s economic development by expanding the commercial and industrial tax base and generating more high-quality employment in the area as well as to support existing local businesses.
“This project fits into a strategy of developing competitive policies as infrastructure preparedness is an important component of Urbandale’s economic development,” says Brown. “The rebranding of the area to the Urban Loop allows us to reintroduce the area and transition to a more positive identity as a result of the infrastructure investments.”
With the improvements in infrastructure, Brown sees an opportunity for economic development. Urbandale is in the middle of a combined stretch of I-35 and I-80 that gives commuters coast-to-coast and border-to-border access. The unique spot in the country is already home to a number of warehouses, fulfillment centers, and direct mail centers.
“The city of Urbandale is a great location for employers in the information technology, finance, and insurance business,” says Brown. “It’s also great for those who need to get access to talent in central Iowa.”
With the Urban Loop area gaining more access for development, opportunities are expanded. “In this area, there are 700 development acres of quality ground for high value investment and great jobs,” says Brown.
Despite the fact that the infrastructure projects have yet to be completed, the rebranding is already having a positive effect. John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group, which had been leasing office space in the area, became a permanent resident. John Deere opened a 134,000-square-foot office building, which allowed the Intelligent Solutions Group to consolidate its Urbandale operations in one space. This investment is promising for further employment growth in the Urban Loop.
The multi-faceted Interstate I-35/I-80 interchanges project in Urbandale is already having a positive influence on the area. Infrastructure projects can impact the communities in which they are undertaken in multiple ways.