Making U.S. 20 four lanes across the entire state is not a unique idea to Iowa. Representatives from neighboring states last Thursday in Storm Lake endorsed four lanes across Iowa as a way to help the economy throughout the entire Midwest.
Representatives from Illinois and Nebraska weighed in with their support of four-laning U.S. 20 at the U.S. 20 Summit sponsored by the U.S. 20 Corridor Association.
Geoff Smith, Glacial Pass alignment project director, spoke of the stretch of U.S. 20 between Galena and Freeport, Ill., and of plans to make that stretch of highway four lanes.
"In Illinois, once you're into 800 vehicles per hour, you're into four-lane warrants," Smith said. Smith said the Longhollow alignment was the preferred alternative for four-laning 20 in Illinois. Whether or not it's ominous for how long it will take for four lanes of Highway 20 across Iowa, Smith said that while highway design will be done by the end of the year, the project completion date will not be until 2020.
Dan Mauk, executive director of the Norfolk, Neb., Area Chamber of Commerce, said his chamber has worked on a similar U.S. Highway 20 corridor for quite some time and for similar reasons for which the project is receiving strong, recent focus in Iowa.
"We think Highway 20 is critical to the economic viability of northeast Nebraska," Mauk said.
Forecasts show 6,000 to 7,000 more vehicles crossing U.S. 20 across northeast Nebraska each day if the route were turned into four lanes, Mauk said. Mauk agreed that northeast Nebraska needs to work with both Iowa and Illinois if a four-lane corridor for U.S. 20 is to become reality.
Four-laning U.S. 20 would save 1.5 million travel hours, $5.4 million in operating costs, and bring $120 to $130 million to Nebraska's economy, Mauk said.
"This little piece of road we're trying to finish really affects the whole country," Mauk said.
In a question-and-answer session that followed, Freeport, Ill., Mayor Jim Gitz said "the question for us is not whether, it's when" U.S. 20 is made into four lanes across Illinois. "The faster this is completed in Iowa, the more pressure there will be in Illinois."
Mauk echoed the theme of regional cooperation in his remarks.
Buck Boekelman, U.S. 20 Corridor Association treasurer, 20-year Corridor member, and representative of the Fort Dodge Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the need for presenting four-laning U.S. 20 as a regional concept.
"We have to be very positive," Boekelman said. "We have to be very proactive in getting this done. There's a tremendous opportunity here."
Boekelman said increasing gas taxes could be one way to pay for four-laning U.S. 20, similar to a toll road. He said an increase of 1 cent would raise $20 million and an increase of 5 cents would raise $100 million annually toward the highway. "Ask yourselves who's paying for the road," Boekelman said.