Iowa DOT May Forego Costly Bypass Projects in Future

Sat January 17, 2004 - Midwest Edition

DES MOINES, IA (AP) The four-lane highway of the future is likely to go through towns rather than bypass them after transportation officials concluded bypasses are too expensive to build.

“I think we have an obligation to maximize the money we are spending to benefit the taxpayers,” Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Wandro told The Des Moines Register for a copyright story.

“We don’t have enough money to take care of the system that we have, and neither do the cities or counties. From a planning perspective, we can’t afford to build the perfect road.”

Expressways can be built through some Iowa cities safely and without inconveniencing motorists, Wandro said, adding that fewer bypasses will save millions of dollars.

Bypass projects approved by the Iowa Transportation Commission will be built, he said. They include loops around towns on U.S. Highway 151 in northeast Iowa, Iowa Highway 60 in northwest Iowa, the Burlington-to-Des Moines expressway, and the Avenue of the Saints uncompleted segment in southeast Iowa.

The new policy will primarily apply to future construction on U.S. Highway 20 between Fort Dodge and Sioux City and on U.S. 30 across Iowa, he said.

“This needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis where we look at the cost analysis and determine where they make sense,” Wandro said. “What we are going to assume today is that we are going to go through every community until we build a case that is necessary to bypass it.”

Bypasses generally ease traffic congestion, reduce travel time, result in fewer accidents and lower vehicle operating costs.

The downside is that bypasses are among the most expensive projects undertaken by the IDOT.

An 11-mi. (17.7 km) U.S. Highway 34 route around Fairfield approved last month will cost $56 million, a 10-mi. (16 km) bypass planned around Sheldon on U.S. Highway 60 in northwest Iowa has a price tag of $44 million, and the Ottumwa bypass, about 9 mi. (14.4 m) long on U.S. Highways 34 and 63 will cost about $68 million.

Savings realized from not building a bypass can be spent on a growing list of other state highway projects, Wandro said.

The IDOT also will no longer automatically construct elaborate interchanges with ramps and overhead bridges when four-lanes cross existing state highways.

Instead, four-way intersections may be designed at ground level.

Many of the bypasses that have become routine whenever a four-lane road approaches a community have been controversial. In most cases they require farm land to be purchased and often homes, farms, or businesses have to be torn down.

Other drawbacks include bypassing small-town businesses which have fears they’ll be left without traveling customers to buy food and fuel.

In some situations, bypasses are seen as beneficial.

V.H. Buck Boekelman, of Fort Dodge, treasurer of the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association, supports widening of U.S. 20 to four lanes. He said that in Dubuque, motorists stop at traffic signals at a four-lane intersection.

“I have heard truckers say, ’When are they going to bypass west of Dubuque?’” Boekelman said.

Traffic has significantly increased on U.S. 20 because of completion of the expressway in eastern Iowa between Dubuque and Interstate 35, Boekelman said.

“The more freedom that you have for truckers to get from point A to point B, that is the name of the game,” he said.

He said bypasses may cost more up front, but in the long run the benefits in safety and convenience are worth it.

The Iowa Motor Truck Association supports Wandro’s efforts.

“I think what Wandro is trying to do is to stretch his buck as far as possible, and I am supportive of that kind of approach,” said Scott Weiser, spokesman for the trucking industry lobbying group.

He said the trucking group supports the IDOT’s emphasis on major state and federal highways crucial to business and industry.