On the horizon

It took six decades, but US Highway 20 is now four lanes all the way across Iowa

-Submitted photo
U.S. Highway 20 is now a four-lane route stretching across northern Iowa from Dubuque to Sioux City.

U.S. Highway 20 is now a four-lane route stretching across northern Iowa from Dubuque to Sioux City.

But it wasn’t always that way. The miles and miles of concrete paving that exist today are a monument to the persistence of highway advocates, elected officials and many others who labored for 60 years to get the highway completed as a four-lane route for its entire length.

Work on the project advanced slowly, starting in 1958. That year, the first four-lane segment opened near Moville in Woodbury County.

“The largest quadrant of land in Iowa without a four-lane was northwest Iowa, from 35 to 29,” said Shirley Phillips, the president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association. She was referring to interstate highways 35 and 29.

“And north of I-80, there were no four lanes,” Phillips added. “So those of us who started in the economic development field, they kept telling us. ‘If you’re not within 30 miles of a four-lane road, we don’t even want to talk to you about prospects for businesses and stuff.’ Which we went, ‘Well heck, then let’s see what we can do here. So we knew how important that road was and it certainly became important not only just to those of us along the corridor, but to others, Blue Bunny and Le Mars, Schuster Trucking, I mean all of those, Hy-Vee distribution center, Cherokee.”

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The bridge spanning the Iowa River in Hardin County was one of the major undertakings.

But the project faced serious obstacles.

Getting enough money to pay for it was a big one.

“The money kept going someplace else,” Phillips said. “We didn’t have enough political clout. Really, we didn’t have the population, we didn’t have the politicians. And if it came to putting money into I-80 versus building 20, it went someplace else.”

The gasoline tax increase of 2015 effectively solved the money problem.

“There’s no way in the world 20 would have been done if we wouldn’t have had the gas tax raised,” Phillips said. “But we harped on that from 1997 until 2015 before we got that accomplished. Going to organize the events that went to the capitol, talked to the governor every year, talked to the legislators, we had Transportation Day,we did the promotion.”

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The late V.H. (Buck) Boekelman, of Fort Dodge, right, discusses four-lane U.S. Highway 20 with U.S. Rep. Steve King at White Transfer and Storage in Moorland in 2002.

The late V.H. (Buck) Boekelman, a longtime U.S. 20 Corridor Association member who attended every Iowa Transportation Commission meeting, was a leading spokesman for the increase. He always referred to the tax as a user fee.

“And Buck and I disagreed a little bit in the beginning,” said Bob Singer, the first vice president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association. “I was a pretty conservative Democrat and really wasn’t terribly excited about raising the gas tax. He wouldn’t even call it a gas tax. He’d call it a user fee. And I said ‘big chicken.'”

“And as his luck would have it, he knew, he had foresight enough to know that was the only way that we were really, truly get Highway 20 four-lane complete all across Iowa, is to plug in a lot of money in a short period of time,” Singer added.

When the gas tax bill got to the state Senate, it appeared that it could be stopped there. According to Ann Trimble-Ray, a spokeswoman for the corridor association, three conservative Republican senators cast key votes that ensured the tax would pass. They are Tim Kraayenbrink, of Fort Dodge; Bill Anderson, of Pierson; and Rick Betrand, of Sioux City.

“They were in a heated meeting with the governor and sat and pledged their support for it and it passed,” she said. “So these three very conservative men voted for a tax increase that resulted in tremendous investment.”

-Submitted photo
U.S. Highway 20 is now a four-lane route stretching across northern Iowa from Dubuque to Sioux City.

At one time, the very need for a four-lane highway in northern Iowa was questioned.

“We were told initially that there wasn’t enough population out here to warrant a four-lane 20, enough traffic,” Phillips said. “They used to do it on traffic counts and there wasn’t enough traffic count to warrant doing it a four-lane. So we’re sitting there. We actually took an assessment. We took an assessment of all the industries and stuff along the corridors and all the trucking firms and all that stuff to try to pose to them what the deal was.”

In 2005, former state senators. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge; Steve Kettering, R-Lake View; and Steve Warnstadt, D-Sioux City; set out to change the way the Iowa Department of Transportation prioritizes highway projects. They introduced and passed legislation requiring the department to give priority to four-lane construction on highways that connect cities with populations greater than 20,000. The measure doesn’t specifically mention U.S. Highway 20. However, it directly impacted the four-lane project because U.S. Highway 20 connects Fort Dodge and Sioux City, which both have populations greater than 20,000.

That directive, combined with the later gas tax increase, paved the way for the four-lane route that is now complete.

If you go:

The completion of U.S. Highway 20 as a

four-lane route from Dubuque to Sioux City will be celebrated on Friday in Holstein at the Boulders Inn and Suites Event Center, 2011 Indorf Ave. A ribbon cutting will be held at 3 p.m. From 4 to 6 p.m. there will be a reception. The celebration is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Transportation and the U.S. 20 Corridor Association.

A little more history

U.S. Highway 20 crosses northern Iowa between Dubuque on the eastern end and Sioux City on the western end. The effort to make it four-lanes wide began 60 years ago with a short piece in Woodbury County. But the effort was not a smooth and continuous one. It advanced in fits and spurts as four-lane sections were built in various places.

Legislation passed in 2005 required the Iowa Department of Transportation to prioritize four-lane routes that connect cities with populations greater than 20,000.

Then in 2015, a 10-cent per gallon increase in the state’s gasoline tax was implemented.

Those two developments helped to push the project to completion.

Here’s a U.S. Highway 20 timeline

1958 — Short segment opens east of Moville in Woodbury County.

1959 — Three miles open in southwest Dubuque.

1964 — Expressway opens between Sioux City and Moville.

1968 — Three miles between Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 69 in Hamilton County opens.

1974 — Nine mile segment around Manchester in Delaware County opens.

1974 — 16 miles between Iowa Highway 187 and Iowa Highway 38 opens in eastern Buchanan County and western Delaware County opens.

1975 — Ed Augustine, of Fort Dodge, chairs a group of Iowa and Illinois interests to develop a four-lane road from Fort Dodge to Chicago.

1976 — 19 miles from Iowa Highway 17 to U.S. Highway 69 in Hamilton County opens.

1979 — 12 mile segment between Iowa Highway 150 and Iowa Highway 187 near Independence in Buchanan County opens.

1979 — Four mile segment between Iowa Highway 17 and Webster City opens.

1980 — Ed Augustine, of Fort Dodge, develops a coalition to discourage the Iowa department of Transportation from selling property in Ida and Woodbury counties that would be needed for the four-lane route.

1983 — Segment between Iowa highway 279 near Raymond in Black Hawk County and Iowa Highway 150 near Independence in Buchanan County opens.

1984 — Seven miles between Iowa Highway 21 and Iowa Highway 297 in Waterloo is completed.

1984 — Three miles between U.S. Highway 63 and Iowa highway 21 in Waterloo is completed.

1986 — Seven-mile segment from the border of Black Hawk and Grundy counties to U.S. Highway 63 opens.

1987 — 10 mile segment from Webster County Road P59 to Iowa Highway 17 completed.

1987 — 11-mile segment from Iowa Highway 38 to the border of Delaware and Dubuque counties opens.

1988 — One mile segment through Dyersville opens.

1988 — Six miles from Peosta to west of Dubuque opens.

1988 — Four miles near Epworth in Dubuque County opens.

1990 — Four-mile segment from Webster County road P59 to U.S. Highway 169 opens.

1990 — The Iowa department of Transportation begins a campaign of corridor expansions for economic development. U.S. Highway 20 and U.S. Highway 30 were the final two projects on the list.

1991 — The Iowa department of Transportation proposes an arrangement that has two lanes of traffic plus turning lanes (called a Super Two) for the stretch between Fort Dodge and Moville.

1991 — 15 miles between Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 65 in Hardin County opens.

1992 — U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin earmarks $2 million for a detailed economic feasibility study of U.S. Highway 20 west of Fort Dodge. The completed study indicates a four-lane expressway with a 65 mph speed limit would be feasible.

1992 — Floyd Magnusson, a Webster County supervisor and president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association, begins meeting monthly with the state transportation director. He met with Daryl Rensink, Mark Wandro and Nancy Richardson.

1994 — V.H. “Buck” Boekelman, a Fort Dodge resident and member of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association, begins attending every Iowa transportation Commission workshop and business meeting

1994 — State Sen. Rod Halvorson, D-Fort Dodge, successfully introduced Access Iowa and Iowa Industrial Commercial Network bills mandating that all communities with a population of more than 25,000 are connected by four-lane highway for economic development purposes.

2000 — 12-mile segment between Iowa Highway 14 in Grundy County and the border of Grundy and Black Hawk counties opens.

2003 — A 27 mile segment between U.S. Highway 65 in Hardin County and Iowa Highway 14 in Grundy County, including a 1,510 foot long bridge over the Iowa River, opens.

2005 — State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, along with state Sen. Steve Kettering, R-Lake View, and state Sen. Steve Warnstadt, D-Sioux City, introduce and pass legislation requiring the Iowa Department of Transportation to give priority to four-lane construction on highways that connect cities with populations greater than 20,000. The measure doesn’t specifically mention U.S. Highway 20. However, it directly impacts the four-lane project because U.S. Highway 20 connects Fort Dodge and Sioux City, which both have populations greater than 20,000.

2005 — A four-mile section between U.S. Highway 169 and Moorland in Webster County opens.

2010 — New four-lane section between Moorland in Webster County and Iowa Highway 4 in Calhoun County opens.

2012 — A 26-mile section between Iowa Highway 4 near Rockwell City in Calhoun County and U.S. Highway 71 near Early in Sac County opens.

2015 — A 10-cent per gallon increase in the state’s gasoline tax provides additional money to be used for completing the four-lane project at a faster pace.

2018 — The final four-lane section opens.

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