Parts of First Street will be getting a new look.
The First Street bridge just north of Norfolk Avenue will be replaced and redesigned and the intersection with Braasch Avenue will get a roundabout after the city council voted to approve an engineering contract for the final design of the First Street bridge project.
City engineer Steve Rames provided the council with background on the project at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“This would be the final design for the replacement of First Street bridge, as well as some remaining work on the roundabout at Braasch and First and some water drainage,” Rames said. “This is all tied into the river restoration as well.”
The sidewalks that run on the sides of the bridge would run underneath the bridge on both sides of the river, Rames said.
The roundabout at the intersection of First and Braasch was originally part of the Braasch Avenue reconstruction project but was taken out for budgetary reasons, Rames said.
Rames said the roundabout and the bridge projects were combined to cause less of a disturbance to the public and traffic flows.
The final design will be completed this summer, Rames said, and construction is slated to begin in January and be completed in the summer of 2022.
Mayor Josh Moenning said this project is both necessary and an opportunity for improvement.
“Not only is this bridge coming to the end of its useful life, I think we’re at this point four to five years out on its shelf-life before it becomes classified as deficient, but (the project) makes room for the plans for river restoration, which essentially are removing the spillway under the First Street bridge to make the river safe for recreation and make the river passable for river recreationists,” he said.
The roundabout will have a public safety use, too, said Shane Weidner, the city’s public safety director.
“Braasch Avenue is a major corridor for emergency traffic going east from the police station and from Fire Station One. As we looked at the reconstruction of Braasch and how it was built, we really anticipated the roundabout going in to allow for that ease of movement and that transfer of traffic so we could continue to use that as an emergency response, because right now, it’s narrow,” he said. “So as the roundabout goes in, it opens up that flow and as long as people are approaching the roundabout at a slow speed and using it how it’s designed, we anticipate a good flow for our ambulances and fire trucks and police cruisers as they go through it.”
Some councilmen questioned the roundabout, though.
“I don’t see a necessary need for that roundabout,” said Councilman Corey Granquist. “We’re purposely congesting traffic in one area. I wish it was part of a whole, separate contract. It’s tough for me to wrap my head putting a roundabout there. I don’t know that this is the best concept that we can come up with.”
Councilman Shane Clausen agreed that the new design could make traveling around town harder for Norfolkans, he said.
“Why do we want to take that arterial road and slow it down and bottleneck it? I’ve always been extremely proud of our community in the past because it’s easy to get around Norfolk,” he said. “I feel like this is going to potentially turn into a situation where we slow it down to a snail’s pace.”
Clausen said he would like to see other options for the project.
Moenning acknowledged the new design may slow traffic down but said doing so benefits public safety in the area.
“There’s a constraining element here, but I think it’s purposeful. We hear a lot in terms of residential where people, for the sake of safety, want traffic speeds to slow. There is residential right here,” he said. “There’s pedestrian traffic, and there’s likely to be more and more. So I think for the sake of this particularly segment, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to calm traffic and get people to pay a little bit more attention. ... I don’t think it’s a major inconvenience, I don’t see this adding a significant amount of time to anyone’s commute.”
Moenning also reminded the council that a lot of planning had gone into the design and the plan for the roundabout had previously passed.
“I just want to make clear on this project, there's been several opportunities for public input going back to the initial design concepts presented with Braasch, both with property owners and with the public,” he said. “It’s gone through several layers of public input, engineering analysis, and I will remind you that the council did approve moving forward with this design on April 6, 2020, by a 7-1 vote.”
The new design passed again. The council voted 5-3 to approve the contract with Thad Murren, Granquist and Clausen voting against it.