The long and winding road to four-lane Highway 20
It has been a project 60 years in the making, since the first four lane section was opened in Moville in 1958.
But in 2018, a day we have waited six decades for is finally here. We’ve reached the end of the long and winding road leading to the opening of a four lane Highway 20 through Iowa. Today, I’ll be among those participating in the celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark this important occasion.
It should be a joyous day for the residents of northwestern Iowa. Converting Highway 20 into a four-lane highway heralds a new era of commerce and economic growth for our region. It also makes Highway 20 a safer roadway. It makes our section of the state, already among the most desirable places in the Midwest to live, work, and raise a family, an even more attractive area for native Iowans seeking to put down roots or for those outside the state to relocate here. With four lanes, Highway 20 truly will become one of the key arteries transporting both the lifeblood of commerce and greater convenience throughout our region.
There are many stories that will be told on today as we gather. One of these stories is mine, so I would like to share it with you, here. It involves the power of a Congressional earmark I was able to secure.
During my tenure in Congress, the federal investment in Highway 20 has totaled over $26 million. Included in this total is a Congressional earmark that I am proud of because it proved to be the most vital component of bringing Highway 20 to completion in the west.
In a project that spans 60 years, federal dollars can be spread out unevenly. This means that some sections of the state saw more investment in Highway 20’s four lanes than others. Traditionally, northwestern Iowa lagged behind.
This changed when I got into office, however. I understood, as did the 92 percent of the Sioux City Chamber of Commerce who declared a four-lane Highway 20 its top priority in 2004, the benefits this projects would have for this region. So I set about to make sure the historic imbalance in Highway 20 funding was addressed. I set about to ensure that, just like the road projects in the eastern part of the state, western Iowa would get the funds it needed too.
I did this through the Congressional earmark process. Earmarks have fallen out of favor now, but back when they were allowed, I was able to use them to successfully fund Highway 20’s four lanes in our section of the state.
How did I do this? I did it by successfully amending appropriations bills to clearly and unequivocally state in law that federal appropriations of Highway 20 funds had to be spent on Highway 20 “west of U.S. 71.” In fact, to ensure these specific instructions were included in the law, I included the phrase “west of U.S. 71” directly into the amendment under consideration.
This specificity of this language (the Congressional counsel who drafted my amendment initially omitted this important phrase, and I had to insist on the inclusion of “west of U.S. 71” at the eleventh hour after being told it was too late to change my amendment’s original text) meant that neither the appropriators nor those receiving the money in the state had any choice in determining how, or where, these funds would be spent. When I secured funding subject to my “west of U.S. 71” specifications to construct four-lane Highway 20, my earmarked funds had to be spent in western Iowa. They couldn’t be diverted elsewhere.
And this mattered a great deal. This meant that the foundation would be in place to pull Highway 20 west. This meant that the funds had to be used “west of U.S. 71” on Highway 20 and the only things they could be used for were right of way acquisition, engineering design, environmental studies, or archaeological studies. This cleared the way for Highway 20 to be a shovel-ready project.
My earmarked language meant that our corner of the state, frequently overlooked before I got into Congress, would soon share in the benefits of improved surface transportation that have been fueling growth in other areas of the state.
It may not seem like much. It’s just five little words: “west of United States 71.” But without them, we might have had to wait another 60 years to get this final stretch of Highway 20 completed. We wouldn’t be standing at the ribbon cutting today without my earmark specifically designated appropriated funds to be spent “west of U.S. 71.”
The completion of Highway 20’s four lanes should be celebrated, and there are many people who deserve credit for persevering over the years to get us to this point. Too many people to name in the space allowed for this op-ed, in fact. However the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association maintains a list of “Heroes” on its website, and I encourage you to visit and see them for yourself as we think about what it took to bring this project to completion. Being named one of the Highway 20 “Heroes” by the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association for my work on the project is something for which I am truly grateful.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, represents Iowa’s 4th District. He is a member of the House Judiciary, House Agriculture, and House Small Business committees.