Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.

$200 Million Iowa Highway Extension Moving Forward at a, Ummm… Turtle’s Pace.

Earlier this month, the long delay that halted the construction of the $200 million Highway 100 extension to Highway 30 in Iowa finally ended with the first shovel of dirt going into the pond that caused the tardiness. Environmental concerns about the project’s effect on Blanding’s Turtles, a threatened species of turtles, pushed the project, but a new pond being built for them will actually be larger and more suited to preserve the little guys. According to Engineering News-Record:

Come 2013, the mostly aquatic Blanding’s turtles that live in this little section of the world will get a chance to orientate themselves to the new and larger pond, an edge of which nearly touches the existing pond.

With the new pond in place, the old pond will be filled in to await the actual highway construction. The new pond will be about 27,900 square feet in size and 5.5 feet deep, compared to the 16,000 square feet of pond of shallower depth that it will replace.

Cathy Cutler, a planner in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s district office in Cedar Rapids, says the new eastbound lanes of the Highway 100 extension will skim the spot where the existing pond has been.

After the mandated environmental assessments, delays and negotiations went on for years as problems arose with accommodating the 20 acre state sanctioned Rock Island Botanical Preserve. Changes in routes and construction methods eventually led to a large compromise between the state, regional construction workers, commuters and the all-powerful Blanding’s Turtle lobby:

Restoring the pond is not all that the DOT is doing for the Blanding’s. With data produced by transmitters placed on the turtles, consulting biologist Terry VanDeWalle says he has been able to determine the corridor that the turtles use as they make their way from Seeman’s Pond to Swan Pond, which sits on the north side of the new highway’s path. Thus, the DOT is building a 10-foot wide and 10-foot-high box culvert under the new highway along the path that the turtles have come to use. A wildlife fence also will work to funnel the turtles and other wildlife through the culvert and keep them off the highway.

Despite the innovative accommodations, lawsuits from local environmental groups may still hamper progress on the job-creating project. Cedar Rapids attorney Wally Taylor, who represents the Sierra Club, has vowed to continue the legal fight.

“We have said all along that the mitigation will not be satisfactory,” Taylor says. “You can’t recreate nature. The turtles have a very significant homing instinct. They’re not going to go where you want them to go, they’re going to go where they want to go. This is just going to be a disaster.”

When the highway funding was announced in June of 2012, Dee Baird, President and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, spoke to KCRG Cedar Rapids about the positive impact it would have on the community.

“A project like this really allows us to complete a critical loop around the community,” said Baird. For years, many anticipated there would be growth in this area-especially if the Highway 100 project got the green light. For example, the Cedar Rapids school District purchased land west of Morgan Creek Park back in 2011. “There are plans for housing developments out there, there are plans for commercial purposes, that’s how communities and regions grow,” added Baird.


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