May 23, 2022 - News

Iowa's planned $125M water trail project could get a reboot

A photo of the Des Moines River.

The confluence of the Raccoon River and Des Moines rivers in December, 2020. Photo: Brian Powers and Kelsey Kremer/The Register via Imagn Content Services

Organizers of a $125 million Iowa water recreation trail project are seeking formal permission to downsize the scope of work required under a federal grant.

Why it matters: The Iowa Confluence Water Trails (ICON) proposal — one of the largest pending public projects in the area — will add amenities like boat launches and whitewater runs throughout central Iowa rivers or creeks.

  • But some of its first pieces are expected to be delayed for years and its price tag keeps growing due in part to inflation and supply chain issues.

State of play: The project was awarded a $25 million federal grant in late 2019, largely for work along a 5-mile stretch of the Des Moines River through downtown.

  • The first phase includes modifying a low-head dam at Scott Avenue to make it safer for recreation and constructing river access points at Prospect Park, Birdland Marina and Harriet Street.
  • Now organizers tell Axios they plan to ask federal officials Monday for permission to scale down the work.

Details: The revised proposal will still cover the Scott Avenue dam and a revised portion of Harriet Street, Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) spokesperson Gunnar Olson tells Axios.

  • The Birdland and Prospect Park pieces would be completed in 3-5 years, depending on how much money is available then, Olson says.

Catch up quick: The initial two attempts in the last year to contract the first phase failed — one resulted in no bids and another came back with a single $73 million price tag, $34 million above estimates.

  • Des Moines Councilperson Joe Gatto, who's also a member of the MPO's executive committee, had warned earlier this year that the project's finances could unravel if a second attempt to contract out the first phase failed.

What they're saying: Gatto renewed his concern in an MPO meeting last month, telling the board that local governments are in a difficult position and unlikely to allocate more money for the project.

  • Maggie McClelland, ICON's director, told Axios Friday that they aren't able to estimate how much the project would cost if the revisions are accepted until the first phases are bid out again.
  • All the pieces are still in the plan, McClelland emphasized.

The bottom line: The water project has hit some snags but organizers assure us they won't sink Iowa's ICON.

A map of the ICON project.
ICON Water Trails includes more than 150 miles of rivers and creeks in Central Iowa. Map courtesy of ICON

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