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Bigger highway is better for business

By Staff | May 15, 2016

Lanes of U.S. Highway 20 are realigned as new bridges are being put in near Correctionville in this June 2015 photo taken by the Iowa Department of Transportation.

By JOE SUTTER

“mailto:jsutter@messengernews.net”>jsutter@messengernews.net

In today’s interconnected world, businesses can’t grow if they can’t rapidly move their goods.

“As a manufacturer, transportation is the name of the game,” said Kevin Alstott , founder and chief executive officer of C&S Products Co. Inc. in Fort Dodge. “Without good transportation, our freight rates increase.”

That’s why officials seeking economic growth in the area have been so supportive of the long effort to turn U.S. Highway 20 into a four-lane expressway from one end of Iowa to the other.

A new roadway is prepared west of Correctionville in this file photo provided by the Iowa DOT. Westbound lanes near the town should be completed by November, according to Shirley Phillips of the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association, and completion of all sections will be done by the end of 2018.

Supporters are about to be rewarded. A roughly 40-mile section between Early in Sac County and Moville in Woodbury County is all that remains to be widened and Iowa Department of Transportation officials have said that all the work will be done by the end of 2018.

“We’re pleased with the progress,” said Shirley Phillips, president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association. “Some of us have been working on this for 30 years.”

Like other area businesses, C&S Products Co. Inc. saw a boost when the final stretch of highway east of Fort Dodge was completed almost 26 years ago.

“We saw benefits initially when it was opened from Fort Dodge to Interstate 35, definitely,” Alstott said, noting that the road gives trucks easier access to a lot of major terminals in Des Moines.

“We immediately saw an increase in traffic,” said Rod Ruppel, president of Webster City RV. “It has continuously grown since then, and we look for it to continue as the highway is completed.”

Crews move dirt as a new lane of highway is constructed east of Moville in this file photo from the Iowa DOT. Work on widening U.S. Highway 20 to four lanes is ongoing on an accelerated schedule.

Phillips said, “People in northwest Iowa are excited about having four-lane 20 completed because it’s so important to all their industries, and we were the largest landmass in Iowa without a four-lane highway.”

“It’s very important. Two-lane roads are a lot slower,” Alstott said. “In this day and age, with computers being like they are, timing is everything. If you aren’t able to load a truck out quickly your rates are going to go up.

“So the easier it is for freight companies to get up here and back again, the quicker it is for them, the better for us.”

The U.S. 20 Corridor Association has lobbied the Iowa Transportation Commission for years, working to inform its members about the need for a four-lane highway across the northern part of the state.

The association’s hoped-for gasoline tax increase materialized in the form of a 10-cents-per-gallon hike that went into effect in March 2015.

Phillips said that provided the money needed to finish the project.

The association reports about $285 million will be needed to complete four-lane 20.

“One DOT official commented recently he has not witnessed a more accelerated construction of four-lane highways in Iowa,” said Webster County Supervisor Bob Singer.

Now, work is going on west of Correctionville in Woodbury County, Phillips said. A detour has been put in place, and the area that will be paved has been cleared.

“Completion of the westbound lanes is to be Nov. 23 of this year,” she said.

Planned detours and road completion schedules are available at iowadot.gov/us20. At least one detour will require crews to pave a gravel road, Singer said.

Bid letting for work east of Correctionville was finished last December, Phillips said, and crews will build an all-new road two lanes at a time.

The final section to be enlarged will be west of Early, and should start in 2017.

When it’s completed, businesses will finally have the connection they need, Phillips said.

“We’ve been promising our businesses and industry for years we would have a westbound four-lane to travel on,” she said. “They’re finally getting it.”

“We continually had companies come here and ask the question, when are you going to get Highway 20 four-lane done,” Singer said. “In fact, CJ Bio America, as they looked over Fort Dodge, asked that very question not only once but a couple times. We assured them it was in the works.”

The road is vital both to CJ and to Cargill, another company located in the ag park west of Fort Dodge called Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation.

“The completion of Highway 20 significantly improves northwest Iowa’s transportation network and increases Cargill’s ability to move product easily and safely,” said Al Viaene, facility manager at the Cargill Fort Dodge facility. “It also becomes a safer route for our employees to travel to and from work, which is very important to Cargill. Lastly, the new highway is an enticement for businesses who are looking to co-locate on Cargill Fort Dodge’s biorefinery campus, which would further stimulate the local and state economy.”

Ruppel said by encouraging business, the four-lane can also slow loss of population in small towns.

“As more and more people gravitate to the metropolitan centers, the highway slows this process,” he said. “It provides employment opportunities in the rural communities.”

That’s backed up by studies, said Singer.

“We started looking at communities that had some change in population,” Singer said, “and what we found was on a 10-mile stretch on either side of a four-lane, not only the larger communities but the smaller communities were growing an inordinate amount.

“And over in western Iowa, our communities on either side of Highway 20 were languishing, sometimes even going backwards. … Where there were no four-lanes, there was a decrease in population. And. of course. if there’s a decrease in population, ordinarily you’re not going to have much economic development either.”

It will be good for everyone, said Tim Flaherty, Fort Dodge Hy-Vee store director.

“I believe it’s good for the growth of Fort Dodge,” Flaherty said. “It’s long overdue. It’s right for the community. It’s right for the state, and I think it helps everyone involved.”

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