The city of Johnston has experienced substantial grown in the past decade in both residential and commercial areas. In 2005, the city conducted a special census which indicated a 57 percent percent population increase from 2000, increasing from 8,649 in 2000 to 13,596 in 2005. In the last 20 years, the population of Johnston has nearly quadrupled.
With an increasing population, city leaders have worked diligently to keep up to date on infrastructure and project needs for a growing community. Currently, there are plans in the works for updates to roads, recreational opportunities, public safety amenities, storm water management and more. Though at times keeping up with growth has been challenging, city leaders say they’re proud of the work that’s been done and excited for what is yet to come.
Mayor Paula Dierenfeld, who moved to Johnston two decades ago, remembers when the city felt a bit more like a small town than a booming suburb. At that time, Johnston had only about 2,500 residents.
“The growth is astounding,” she says. “It almost takes your breath away. We have been able to manage that so well. It’s been fun, and there’s been a lot of good, smart, dedicated people who have helped us through this process.
Jim Sanders, city manager, and his staff have worked to keep up with the increase in population. The town has seen developments in infrastructure necessary for a population that has doubled in the last 10 years.
“The good news is even with the slowdown in housing, it’s been nice for the community to have our growth more manageable recently,” he says. “We’re still growing now even during the slowdown, which is great, but it was so hard before to stay on top of things when we were growing so fast.”
One of the major improvements residents will be able to enjoy soon is the N.W. 62nd Avenue improvement project. Currently under construction, N.W. 62nd Avenue from N.W. 86th Street to Meadow Crest Drive has a completion date of December 2012. The project includes pavement widening and reconstruction, bridge construction and intersection improvements to widen the existing two-lane road to a four-lane divided roadway. Roundabouts will be installed at the following intersections with N.W. 62nd: Pioneer’s Beaver Creek Campus, South Drive, Pioneer’s Carver Entrance, and Pioneer Parkway.
With the expansion of Pioneer Hi-Bred, the company is looking at adding about 500 employees who need to access an already busy corridor that’s the main east-west thoroughfare through town. Because of the company’s expansion, the city was able to access state funds through a grant with the Iowa Department of Transportation that will provide $5.3 million toward the project.
“We only have two east-west roads that go through Johnston, so we want to make sure they’re safe and provide capacity for business and school growth,” Sanders says.
The new improvements will also feature the addition of roundabouts, which the city has made use of in order to keep traffic flowing smoothly through the corridor. Modern roundabouts have been shown to increase safety as well, with a 35 percent reduction in crashes and a 90 percent reduction in fatalities. They also reduce congestion by keeping traffic moving, and they reduce pollution and fuel use.
Sanders says that when leaders were considering the design of 62nd, they decided it wouldn’t be wise to have another road with multiple stop lights, like Merle Hay or 86th St. He thinks once residents get used to the new design, they’ll be grateful they aren’t having to stop four times if they were to hit four red lights going through that corridor.
“It’s a change, and people might be a little nervous about them, but once they see they keep traffic moving and are safer, I think they’ll appreciate them,” he says. “They just have to experience them and have some patience, and they’ll get used to them. I think they’ll be a good solution to our community.”
Jim Hibbs, former city councilman and Johnston resident, says he believes that the new road design will be attractive for current residents and for people who are interested in moving to the area. The use of roundabouts shows some forward thinking when it comes to traffic control issues.
“The traffic flow will be so much smoother,” he says. “There won’t be the 7:45 a.m. backups that extend all the way down 62nd Avenue and down 86th. As far as continuing to grow, when people come into town and see a modern roadway and a focus on allowing traffic to move, people are attracted to that. People working at John Deere Credit and Pioneer, they look at that and see this is a place we can live.”
With a growing population, another big concern for city leaders is enhancing quality of life projects and recreational opportunities for residents. People want to be able to walk out their front door and hop on a trail or walk to a park, and currently there are plans in the works to expand those offerings.
One project currently underway is a trail expansion that will be connected to the newly improved 62nd Avenue. The trail will run from 86th Street through the Augustine neighborhood along Beaver Creek and connect to 62nd Avenue.
Another project that is slated to begin most likely next year is the Terra Lake project. Originally the lagoon near Crown Pointe was built as a waste water lagoon for the original Green Meadows neighborhood. The area used to have water in it, and years ago when the land was turned over to the city, a trail was built with benches and lighting for people to enjoy the native vegetation and wildlife. The pond has since dried up, and now it’s mostly just overgrown with weeds.
“The plan is to restore water to Terra Lake and to develop a 12-acre pond with some other wetland features,” says mayor Dierenfeld. “We’d like to take advantage of the natural environment and build some amenities like a shelter, play area, and great lawn or green space, and the trail connects to the Beaver Creek natural resource area and 59 acres of open space there, too.”
The hope is that the work on Terra Lake will begin next summer after going through the budgeting process this year.
Hibbs says that improvements like Terra Lake and the addition of trails and recreation opportunities is a must for a growing community. As new people locate to Johnston, they expect to see those types of amenities.
“You come home from work, and Johnston is home. You want to play at home and be outside and enjoy the family,” he says. “We have these unique opportunities in the metro with our topography with the lake and everything. People want to walk from their home and enjoy a park or go to the trails.”
Another vital link, Hibbs believes, is the trails along Beaver Drive on the north end of town. People will more easily be able to access recreation opportunities safely with those improvements.
“We’re the gateway to recreation with Saylorville to our north, and we want people to stay in town and give the recreation here that we afford and provide,” he says.
Public safety improvements
Another area that has required attention is the availability of emergency services for a growing community. Leaders have responded by breaking ground on a new public safety building as well as a fire station annex.
The public safety building, located near Northwest 63rd Place and Merle Hay Road, will feature the fire department on the north end, a shared space in the middle and the police station on the south end. The fire station portion of the building will feature: five bays on the west entrance, three bays on the east entrance, bunking, a kitchen, day space and administrator offices. The station at the public safety building will also house the machine to refill the department’s self-contained breathing apparatus. The shared middle space includes training facilities and meeting spaces.
The Police Department will feature: an armory for weapon storage and cleaning, an area for fire arms training, a dedicated IT area, detective areas, detention cells and interview rooms.
The fire station annex located near 62nd Avenue and Northwest 100th Street is expected to be finished in the fall of 2012. The annex features two pull-through bays, bunks, meeting rooms, a kitchen and day space.
“People move to Johnston because they have a sense that it’s a safe community, and one thing we’ve done is make sure it continues to be safe,” Dierenfeld says. “We’ve increased the staff and made sure they’re more professionally trained, too. We need to provide them with the facilities that they need to do their jobs.”
Johnston has never built police or fire facilities before. The police station was housed in the back of the city hall building while the fire station was in a building that the school district provided. With that in mind, Johnston residents passed a $14 million referendum in August 2011 with an overwhelming 82 percent approval.
Hibbs is glad that city leaders have been able to continue to meet the needs of the community when it comes to public safety, and he thinks most residents are happy with response times.
“But also by improving the facilities, we will now be able to better keep good quality fire fighters and police and attract new ones,” he says. “If someone was coming out of the training at the academy, and they stopped at the old Hy-Vee, maybe they thought, ‘Oh I don’t know about this.’ Now we’ll have a very practical and useful facility that will keep the people we have and attract the best of the best, and that’s good for residents.”