Eastern Iowa city uses RAISE grant for multimodal transit

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: February 1, 2024

On the northern banks of the Mississippi River, Dubuque, IA, is using multimodal transit projects to revitalize its historic neighborhoods. The project is being largely funded through a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant.

Dubuque, IA, a small city of about 60,000 people, is located near the intersection of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Once home to America’s largest millwork district, repeated floods, car-focused intersections, and limited protected pedestrian and bike areas have led to high poverty rates. Today, Dubuque’s per capita income is 15% lower than the national average.

The challenge

While Dubuque’s former warehouses have the potential to host vibrant communities, today many of them sit empty. Brownfield sites, still in the process of being assessed and cleaned up, have prevented development along much of the city’s waterfront areas. In some of Dubuque’s neighborhoods, as many as 20% of residents do not have their own vehicle, in a state where almost 95% of people have access to a private vehicle.

The city’s main commercial corridor, 16th St., is comprised of four lanes for vehicular traffic, without any sidewalks or bike lanes. Nearby Elm Street experiences high car crash rates, and rush-hour congestion. Many sidewalks are not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations, including pedestrian access to a community health center. A nearby industrial park is only available across railroad tracks, lacking safe pedestrian and bike paths. Simultaneously, trains that run through the corridor often experience significant delays, impacting regional supply chains.

Dubuque’s Intermodal Transportation Center offers transportation choices with local and regional bus transfers, but it too is not safely accessible without a private vehicle.

The plan

The City of Dubuque’s $2.28 million RAISE Planning Grant from the US Department of Transportation strives to use multimodal transportation to connect and revitalize communities. To reduce train delays and create safe access for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers, a bridge will be built over the railroad tracks. New shared use bike and pedestrian paths are being constructed downtown that will connect with regional trail systems.

Dubuque’s multimodal plan also strives to mitigate the effects of climate change: the city’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 34% by 2030. In their DOT RAISE request, the city explains that their multimodal plan “mitigates climate change impacts through Complete Streets and shared-use paths that encourage modal shifts, reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and lower vehicular emissions by providing safe, [and] interconnected routes for walking and biking.”

Next steps

Since 2006, Dubuque has been a leader at cleaning up brownfields. Their success revitalizing contaminated industrial areas has previously led to significant private investments and looks forward to similar innovative financing because of these development projects. The Dubuque Racing Association, the non-profit arm of a local casino, has already committed $500,000 to construct shared-use bike/pedestrian paths.

Dubuque’s public transit is also expanding. The Jule, Dubuque’s public transit system, offers nine fixed route bus lines. All their buses are equipped with bicycle racks and are ADA compliant. At a recent Transit Advisory Board Meeting, Operations Supervisor Jodi Johnson announced that ridership was up in FY 2023 from FY 2022 and FY 2021 levels, and that they are adding new bus stops on one line. College students now ride the buses free, thanks to funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The city expects to purchase its first electric buses in 2024.


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