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Pleasant Hill Gateway and Streetscape Improvements

With a population that has nearly doubled over the past two decades, more than 10,000 people now call the City of Pleasant Hill home. Situated on the eastern outskirts of Des Moines, Pleasant Hill is also a major hub of the Gay Lea Wilson Trail, providing direct access to Des Moines and Altoona for outdoor enthusiasts. In light of the city’s steady growth, new streets and infrastructure were necessary to accommodate the burgeoning community. At the same time, a desire existed among city leaders to create a cohesive sense of place by tying certain areas of the community together through the use of streetscape and gateway enhancements.

One notable corridor was the newly reconstructed section of Northeast 70th Street extending south from Highway 163 (East University Avenue). This section of roadway was emerging as a major thoroughfare for Pleasant Hill residents seeking quick access to the U.S. Route 65 interchange. Snyder & Associates was tasked with not only redesigning the roadway to accommodate heavier traffic loads but also to “rebrand” the roadway section as a distinctive Pleasant Hill entry point.

Insufficient Capacity & Dangerous Intersection Addressed by Roadway Design

In its pre-construction state, NE 70th Street was too narrow to effectively handle the increased traffic flows. Also, a lack of sidewalks, ADA-compliant ramps, and other multi-modal considerations were all negative marks for attracting new residents to the area. NE 70th Street linked up with Rising Sun Drive a short ⅓-mile south of Highway 163. The current configuration had Rising Sun Drive intersecting NE 70th Street on a curve. This caused reduced sightlines for vehicles attempting to enter NE 70th and created a dangerous situation.

Managing Streetscape Requirements with Manageable Maintenance 

The Snyder & Associates team coordinated with city staff and the public to help guide the design process and address key challenges. After a topographic survey and site analysis were complete, the designers prepared a master plan that incorporated attractive and safe streetscape features that help to create the desired sense of place. With the main goals of welcoming people to Pleasant Hill, expanding the roads, and tying together the existing gateway, the design team considered crucial elements, like stormwater, utilities, and safety, along with a balanced aesthetic and easy-to-maintain amenities.

The team’s forward-thinking approach included features like wider sidewalks to accommodate future growth, decorative pavements in the raised medians, new signage, landscaping, and upgraded street lighting. A gateway sign at the entrance of the roadway welcomes visitors and decorative, wave-like concrete and steel median dividers create a distinct transition into the neighborhood. A new roundabout eliminated the dangerous intersection and created an unimpeded traffic flow at the intersection of Northeast 70th Street and Rising Sun Drive.

A concept rendering of a roundabout.

A roundabout at NE 70th Street and Rising Sun Drive keeps traffic moving smoothly along the corridor.

Once fundraising is complete, a one-of-a-kind art piece will be installed in the center of the roundabout. The freestanding sculpture “Phoenix” by Volkan Alkanoglu will stand 26 feet high and be visible from Highway 163. Future development plans call for roadway construction to continue further south and create a new boulevard section that connects near Four Mile Elementary School, incorporating some of the same decorative features.

These thoughtfully planned improvements create a pedestrian-friendly environment with better traffic control and a noticeable transition to the neighborhood. When the final landscaping pieces are in place in spring 2020, guests will be able to fully appreciate the visual appeal of the amenities incorporated into this growing community.