By Katie Dahlstrom
Cars zip in and out of the Camanche Avenue Casey’s General Store on Friday afternoon. Fuel, cigarette, coffee and other purchases keep assistant manager Judi Bell busy swiping cards and taking cash.
Although this might seem like a common scene for a gas station along U.S. 30/67 at 5 p.m. on a Friday, it wasn’t until recently when construction on the city’s main thoroughfare ended.
“Business has gone back up a little bit,” Bell said in between the stream of customers. “We’ve got more people coming in now and we’re pretty busy.”
Businesses, drivers and city leaders are relishing the completion of Camanche Avenue construction and the swiftly moving traffic.
The $14.7 million Camanche Avenue project was the final phase of reconstructing Clinton’s US 30/67 corridor. It’s part of the larger Liberty Square project that started in October 2008 after years of planning and property acquisition. State crews started transforming Camanche Avenue into the three westbound lanes of traffic in April 2012 and substantially completed the work earlier this month.
Bell has worked at the store for six years, which places her tenure through the duration of construction on Liberty Avenue and Camanche Avenue, what she calls “a long few years.”
“We’re really lucky we made it,” she said.
That’s because customers such as Julie Franzen, a lifelong Clinton resident, often sought alternate routes to get from downtown Clinton to the city’s west end or vice versa. With construction came a decrease in customers.
“I just avoided it. I didn’t want to mess with it,” Franzen said about the stretch of road running from South 14th Street to South Fourth Street.
With three lanes of westbound traffic, a matching traffic pattern going eastbound on Liberty Avenue and several finished connecter streets, Franzen, who drives along the road a couple times a week, feels comfortable
“I love it. It’s much better,” she said.
City Engineer Jason Craft touted the project’s enhancement of the area including the sewer, as well as the benefits it will offer drivers.
“It’s going to improve the flow of traffic and safety along that corridor,” Craft said.
Larry Holmes, of Clinton, agreed.
“The construction was a pain in the butt,” said Holmes, who drives a semi-truck for work along Camanche and Liberty avenues. “Not only am I driving on it for work, but in my free time. This has made it a lot easier, especially in a semi.”
West of Casey’s on Camanche Avenue, Smokin’ Joe’s manager Ronda Kimmer also sees customers other than the ones who would brave the construction and confusion getting in and out of the driveway to her shop. The Iowa DOT placed orange signs along the road indicating where drivers should turn to get to specific businesses, but the construction still kept potential customers from turning into their parking lots.
“It hurt while it was going on,” Kimmer said. “I was ecstatic to see it was done.”
Underneath the excitement, Kimmer and other business owners remain guarded about the impact of being on a one way.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what the impact is,” Kimmer said.
The Liberty Square project cost $50 million, with a majority of it coming from state and federal sources. Liberty Avenue cost $15 million with $3.5 million coming from the city; Camanche Avenue also cost $15 million, with the city pitching in $2.5 million and the state and federal governments paying the remainder.
Another $20 million went toward land acquisition. City leaders plan to open the bare land in between Liberty and Camanche avenues to commercial development, but has to work with the DOT through the right-of-way and property disposal process. Because the land was taken through eminent domain, it first has to be offered for purchase to its prior owner.
City leaders aren’t alone in their vision for a burgeoning commercial strip. Bell not only hopes her business will return to pre-construction levels, she also wants a view outside the gas station windows other than the golden dome of Archer Daniels Midland.
“Hopefully business picks back up and we see buildings in the center area,” she said.