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Des Moines Tunnel Project Draws Mixed Reviews From Residents

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  By the end of 2019, walkers and bikers at Gray's Lake Park will be able to get to Water Works Park by going underneath Fleur Drive instead of having to cross the street.

The Water Works Foundation says a tunnel connecting the two parks has been in the works for years. On Monday, the city council approved the plan.

Ashlie Loose says she can’t wait to see a tunnel.

“I think it'd be great. My family likes both parks, so it would be convenient to get to both without getting in the car and driving over, or just being able to get through all the traffic easily,” she said.

However, not everyone shares Loose's optimism. The project announcement got some blowback on Facebook.

Paul Stamper wrote, “Why not a pedestrian bridge in the same bowed, suspension style as the MLK bridge that's only a couple hundred yards away? A tunnel? Jesus, Fleur Drive floods near Gray's every time someone spits out of their car window.”

The Water Works Foundation says a bridge was considered, but it wouldn't work.

“We're a bridge city and we love the thought of bridges, but they actually were going to be taking up quite a bit more room than we had, especially given the lake's close proximity to Fleur. It would end up landing within the lake, and that wasn't going to work, feasibility wise. Also, cost wise, [it was] pretty much double the cost,” said Kate Byus, president of the Water Works Foundation.

The cost of the project is $3.5 million, 100% privately fundraised by the Water Works Foundation.  It's part of a larger project that will see an amphitheater built in Water Works Park. The larger project itself also has had some Iowans voicing their concerns.

Neva Moss wrote, “This is the reason they are cutting down over 150 of the flowering trees in waterworks, so they can tunnel under Fleur Drive to connect one concrete monstrosity to another.”

Byus says 176 trees will be removed from the park. Some of those were planted as part of a memorial program that has since been halted. Byus says it's less than 10% of the total trees, and the foundation has reached out to those who planted them.

“A lot of them have been respectful and understanding of the fact that some of these developments are going to help more people enjoy the park. They all have had an opportunity to get a replacement tree if they wanted to plant it somewhere else. Also, the names of those memorial trees that will be disturbed will be replaced on a more permanent, flood resilient structure,” she said.

As for Fleur Drive itself, those close to the project say it will have little impact on the road during large flood events where Fleur floods out north of the tunnel. Construction will start on the tunnel in about a year and is expected to wrap up by the end of 2019.