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U.S. Highway 20: On the road again

Increased traffic flows to U.S. Highway 20; Four-lane route is finally done

-Messenger file photo
Traffic moves smoothly along U.S. Highway 20 near the Coalville exit southeast of Fort Dodge.

For about 60 years, activists from Fort Dodge and other northern Iowa communities worked to achieve a transportation vision — a four-lane U.S. Highway 20 between Dubuque and Sioux City.

Those efforts paid off in October 2018, when the four-lane route was finally completed.

Drivers were quick to find the new, wider highway and have been using it early and often. In some cases, the traffic count has exceeded what was projected.

“There definitely has been traffic growth,” said Shirley Phillips, of Sac City, who served as president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association. “People are taking advantage of having the transportation network there.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation has data that shows the surging number of vehicles on the route. It placed an automatic traffic recorder along the highway north of Rockwell City in Calhoun County. In November 2019, that device showed 7,416 vehicles passing by.

-Messenger file photo
The ribbon for the final section of U.S. Highway 20 was cut in October of 2018 in Holstein. U.S. Rep. Steve King R-Kiron, did the honors with help from Mark Lowe, director of the Iowa DOT, at left, Shirley Phillips, president of the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association, Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Iowa Transportation Commission member Charese Yanney, at right.

In November 2017, before the four-lane expansion was completed, that device logged 6,399 vehicles.

In July 2019, at the height of the summer driving season, that device registered 8,442 vehicles, up from 6,982 vehicles in July 2017.

Such traffic increases have occurred farther west as well. An automatic traffic recorder near Holstein in Ida County logged 5,341 vehicles in November 2019. That’s up from 4,681 vehicles in November 2018.

And near Lawton in Woodbury County, the traffic count surged to 13,030 in November 2019, up from 12,441 in November 2018.

“We have been impressed with the traffic growth,” Phillips said.

She said the traffic increases have led to “considerable growth.”

“I certainly have seen a lot of growth in Fort Dodge,” Phillips said. “I think Fort Dodge has done a good job of absorbing having a four-lane highway nearby.”

The increased usage of U.S. Highway 20 has been reflected in other ways as well. For example, the parking lot of the Caseys General Store in Early in Sac County was recently expanded to allow truck parking.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, worked tirelessly to further the highway project while he was in the state legislature and in Congress. Now he’s taking advantage of the four-lane route.

“I can go back and forth in the middle of this district, and boy does it work a lot better than it used to,” he said.

“I also remember some folks here in Fort Dodge that stuck with us when we needed to move that highway all the way to Sioux City,” he added. “Finally got it done a little over a year ago. They stuck with us all the way.”

The late Floyd Magnusson, a former Webster County supervisor who was also president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association, was one of the Fort Dodge residents who campaigned for years for the four-lane highway.

The late V.H. “Buck” Boekelman, also of Fort Dodge, was an association member who regularly represented the group before the Iowa Transportation Commission. Boekelman went to so many commission meetings that the group’s chairman once delayed starting a meeting until he arrived.

And in the 1970s and 1980s, the late Ed Augustine, of Fort Dodge, led the effort to get the four-lane highway into Webster County.

Former Webster County Supervisor Bob Singer and Steve Hoesel, former executive director of the MIDAS Council of Governments, were two other Fort Dodge residents heavily involved in the lobbying for a four-lane U.S. Highway 20.

King said the work of the Fort Dodge group was notable because “once you get your four-lane highway, it’s hard to have enthusiasm for someone else’s.”

The highway widening project began in 1958 when the first four-lane segment opened near Moville in Woodbury County. It progressed slowly from then until October 2018 when a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Holstein marked the formal debut of the four-lane route between Dubuque and Sioux City.

In 2005, former state senators Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge; Steve Kettering, R-Lake View; and Steve Warnstadt, D-Sioux City; passed legislation requiring the state Department of Transportation to give priority to four-lane construction on highways that connect cities with populations greater than 20,000. Their legislation didn’t specifically mention U.S. Highway 20. But it impacted the route because it connects Fort Dodge and Sioux City, which both have populations of more than 20,000.

An increase in the state’s gasoline tax that was approved by the legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad provided the needed financial boost to finish the project in 2015.

“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.”

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