City, design team earn urban design award

Local News

Reconnecting Muscatine has been and continues to be an ambitious project by the City of Muscatine to reimage and reconstruct vehicular and pedestrian pathways to enhance the connection between the downtown and the Mississippi River.

The work of the City of Muscatine and the design team at Bolton & Menk, Inc., on this multi-phase project was recognized when the city and design team earned the Urban Design Award from the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA,) a news release says.

The vision began with a thought to transform a riverfront filled with old buildings, grain bins, and a switchyard into a park. Out of that came the realization of the need for a strong connection between the riverfront and Downtown Muscatine.

The vision of a connected Riverside Park-Mississippi Drive-Downtown Muscatine was created in the 1980s and has been enhanced since then with public and private input along with public and private funding. The development of Riverside Park with free parking (542 spaces), plenty of green space and other amenities was the initial project

The parking, for several reasons – including people having to walk to the downtown area for work, shopping, or dining – was not being used for many reasons, and for safety concerns to pedestrians as they tried to cross Mississippi Drive.

As part of a phased reconstruction strategy for downtown Muscatine, the city reimagined 1.6 miles of Mississippi Drive, developed plans for 2.1 miles of Grandview Avenue, began the reconstruction of 2nd Street through the downtown district, and completed a roundabout at the intersection of Mulberry Avenue and 2nd Street.

The riverfront was transformed into a regional amenity as the city evolved offering recreational opportunities along with public open space. But the riverfront had increasing vehicular traffic and lacked connectivity to the downtown. Accessibility challenges, dangerous railroad crossings, and aging infrastructure historically were problems with the 1.6 mile corridor.

The reconnecting of the downtown district to the riverfront revolved around several key principles including:

·       The need for the infrastructure to encourage private investment;

·       Solving fundamental planning, circulation, and public-safety issues that have plagued the downtown and riverfront corridor for decades;

·       Redefining the public perception of how the Mississippi Drive and Grandview Avenue corridors should function while putting more emphasis on establishing multimodal corridors;

·       Using technically sound design and detailing practices that are mindful of flood potential and other adverse effects on the built environment;

·       Incorporating beautification and complete streets design principles with every project; and,

·        Engaging the public often, educating them on the “big ideas” and building consensus throughout the process.

Through a series of public meetings, the project team gathered public input and support for monumental changes to Mississippi Drive.

The innovations contained in this project included an agreement between the city and Canadian Pacific Railroad to implement a quiet zone through downtown Muscatine, and creating safer vehicular and pedestrian rail crossings. Other significant changes in the corridor project included back-in angled parking, landscaped medians, and a roundabout at the gateway to downtown.

The roundabout created a vibrant entryway and solved key circulation issues. The Mississippi Drive corridor calmed traffic and re-established the riverfront connection. The Grandview Avenue corridor project will solve infrastructure and access-management problems that have stalled business development. The 2nd Street Project will inspire the creation of more vibrant retail, commercial, and housing markets.

The Mississippi Drive project has become a showcase corridor for the city and for the region.

The Mulberry Roundabout project has proven semi-trucks and other vehicles can safely navigate a roundabout and speed up the transition from one direction to another. The 2nd Street Project will improve the walkability of the six-block downtown area and create areas where people can congregate while shopping and visiting restaurants when it is complete in 2021. The Grandview Avenue Project will use the principles of the Mississippi Drive Corridor Project to create a friendlier atmosphere for business growth while creating an area more conducive to pedestrians and pedestrian safety.

The city and Bolton & Menk, Inc., hosted numerous meetings with local businesses, freight truck drivers, public-safety officials, and other key stakeholders including various members of the general public, for a better understanding of the community needs and how proposed changes would affect businesses, residents, and visitors.

Segments of the Riverfront Park Master Plan are in the early stages of development.

The Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project began in May 2017 and wrapped up in November 2018. The roundabout was a separate project and was constructed January-July of 2020. The Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project is the biggest public works project undertaken over a two-year period in the city’s history, reconstructing 1.6 miles of U.S. 61-Business with a 4-to-3 conversion of the traffic lanes, improved street lighting, landscaping, gateway features, pedestrian crossings and sidewalk improvements, new traffic signals and geometric improvements, storm drainage improvements, and roadway embankment work to improve flood protection.

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