On the horizon
17 Oct 2018
U.S. Highway 20 is now a four-lane route stretching across northern Iowa from Dubuque to Sioux City.
But it wasn’t always that way. The miles and miles of concrete paving that exist today are a monument to the persistence of highway advocates, elected officials and many others who labored for 60 years to get the highway completed as a four-lane route for its entire length.
Work on the project advanced slowly, starting in 1958. That year, the first four-lane segment opened near Moville in Woodbury County.
“The largest quadrant of land in Iowa without a four-lane was northwest Iowa, from 35 to 29,” said Shirley Phillips, the president of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association. She was referring to interstate highways 35 and 29.
“And north of I-80, there were no four lanes,” Phillips added. “So those of us who started in the economic development field, they kept telling us. ‘If you’re not within 30 miles of a four-lane road, we don’t even want to talk to you about prospects for businesses and stuff.’ Which we went, ‘Well heck, then let’s see what we can do here. So we knew how important that road was and it certainly became important not only just to those of us along the corridor, but to others, Blue Bunny and Le Mars, Schuster Trucking, I mean all of those, Hy-Vee distribution center, Cherokee.”
But the project faced serious obstacles.
Getting enough money to pay for it was a big one.
“The money kept going someplace else,” Phillips said. “We didn’t have enough political clout. Really, we didn’t have the population, we didn’t have the politicians. And if it came to putting money into I-80 versus building 20, it went someplace else.”
The gasoline tax increase of 2015 effectively solved the money problem.
“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. Going to organize the events that went to the capitol, talked to the governor every year, talked to the legislators, we had Transportation Day,we did the promotion.”