A Davenport Public Works employee walks along the HESCO barriers on River Drive on May 31.

Davenport aldermen could soon take up a proposal offered by city staff to remove two traffic dividers on River Drive that have been identified as an obstruction to protecting the city from seasonal Mississippi River floods.

In response to the Flood of 2019, Davenport adjusted its flood protection plan to prepare higher and heavier temporary flood walls whenever river forecasts predict severe flooding. But the highway dividers, installed just nine years ago, stand in the way of putting that new flood protection method in place, Public Works Director Nicole Gleason said Tuesday.

Benefits of removing them include the ability to set the temporary flood barrier on a more optimal part of the road and fill it with sand faster, Gleason said. Plans and specifications for the project are likely to be ready for council’s consideration in early September, she added.

The road dividers on River Drive are filled with plants and trees and dirt, spanning a one-mile stretch between Iowa and Marquette streets. They were installed in 2010 under a $1.4 million initiative called the Front Porch Parkway project meant to calm traffic and enhance the view of the downtown streetscape.

Under the proposal crafted by city staff, the two dividers on the most eastern edge of River Drive could be pulled out by spring. The remaining road dividers up to Marquette Street would stay.

In March, Davenport’s temporary flood barrier breached near the intersection of River Drive and Pershing Avenue after it had been holding back the Mississippi River for several weeks. Lower downtown was submerged with floodwater, leaving many downtown businesses damaged and temporarily closed. Some do not plan to reopen.

A full account of the damage remains unclear, though city officials say the flood has already cost taxpayers an extra $1 million in Public Works expenses related to clean up, overtime and materials. Gleason has said the final tally could easily be as high as quadruple the flood budget in a typical year.

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After the breach, city leaders asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to figure out what went wrong. The Corps released a report last month saying the temporary flood barrier likely failed because part of it slid out of place, possibly due in part to the plastic sheeting city workers put underneath it to keep sand from seeping out.

Suggestions offered by the Corps included installing the floodwall in a way that allows it to be reinforced when the river gets too high. The additional weight that comes with a bigger floodwall could greatly reduce the risk of slipping, the Corps’ engineers say.

For the traffic dividers on River Drive, city officials estimate removing them will cost about $180,000. Grants offered by the Iowa Department of Transportation paid for the bulk of the installation in 2010, according to Gleason.

Pending approval from City Hall, city administrators hope the barriers will be removed before spring. That’s when snowmelt from the north and heavy seasonal rain typically causes the Mississippi River to reach to its highest levels, posing the greatest risk to properties along the riverfront.

In the wake of this year’s disastrous flood, a community-wide conversation has begun around how the city should protect an area that has flooded for as long as anyone can remember.

Mayor Frank Klipsch has organized a 22-member task force made up of climate scientists, engineering experts and local stakeholders to make recommendations to the city council for a longer-term flood plan. That group is tentatively scheduled to meet next week to discuss large scale remedies aimed at addressing fiercer, longer and more frequent floods in the years to come.

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