EARLY - The debut of 26 more miles of four-lane U.S. Highway 20 prompted a Wednesday morning celebration by officials and transportation advocates.
A ceremonial ribbon was snipped, and some 400 people gathered for a reception. But before any of that officially organized activity took place, a handful of drivers traveling over the new route signaled their approval with a serenade of car and truck horns.
''It really benefits the entire state to have this efficient transportation system,'' Gov. Terry Branstad said.
After singing for guests at the U.S. Highway 20 ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday, students from Ridge View Middle Choir formed a giant 20 along the road.
Marlene Lents, of Sac City, and her great-granddaughter Jaedyn Lowe, 9, greet Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as he arrives for the ribbon cutting ceremony for the recently completed section of U.S. Highway 20 near Early. She also got to meet Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, right.
The pavement at the heart of the festivities extends from Iowa Highway 4 near Rockwell City in Calhoun County to U.S. Highway 71 near Early in Sac County. That section was completed at a cost of $111.3 million.
Opening that road to traffic, which occurred before Wednesday's celebration, marked another step toward completing the four-lane route between Dubuque and Sioux City.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, described the just-opened section as the ''most essential link of all'' because its completion marks a tipping point that makes it more certain that the entire project will be finished.
''All expectations are we will link this up with Sioux City,'' he said.
About 44 miles between U.S. Highway 71 and Moville in Woodbury County are all that remain to be widened to create a four-lane highway all across the northern tier of the state.
Wednesday's event began on the new highway section just east of Early in an area where commercial vehicle enforcement officers will eventually set up truck scales. There, about 150 students from Ridge View Middle School in Early started the ceremony by singing the national anthem. Branstad then cut the red ribbon with a pair of oversized scissors.
The group then moved to the United Methodist Church in Early. Shirley Phillips, the president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association, presided over a reception there at which many of the people who worked together on the highway project were honored.
''Our futures are a little brighter today because of this investment in transportation infrastructure,'' she said.
King saluted former state Sen. Rod Halvorson, who came to the event from his home in Minnesota, for his efforts to expand the highway more than a decade ago.
''You've done great work in the Iowa Senate to get this done,'' King told Halvorson, who represented a district that included Fort Dodge.
King said he and Halvorson, a Democrat, worked together on legislation to make completion of the four-lane route a priority.
Branstad noted the economic importance of four-lane highways, saying that industries want to be near them.
The governor also thanked the numerous contractors who built the new highway segment.
''The citizens of Iowa are very appreciative and very thankful for your good work,'' he said.
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said opening the new highway section is part of Iowa's tradition of providing good transportation systems.
Paul Trombino, the director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said a four-lane highway provides vital safety benefits as well as economic development opportunities.
''Ultimately, what you see out here is a much safer road for the traveling public,'' he said.
Other speakers at the reception included two members of the Iowa Transportation Commission, David Rose and Charese Yanney; Steve Jackson, president of Cedar Valley Corp. in Waterloo; and John Moyna, president of C.J. Moyna & Sons of Elkader. Cedar Valley Corp. paved the highway while C. J Moyna & Sons was the primary earthmoving contractor.
Ed Augustine, of Fort Dodge, who started what became the U.S. 20 Corridor Association in the 1980s, was recognized. Buck Boekelman, a Fort Dodge resident, who has been a member of the association for about 25 years, was named the group's honorary chairman.