The magic number for members of the Highway 30 Coalition is 4, but officials with the Iowa Dept. of Transportation came back from their initial studies with a 2.

Sam Shea, District 6 Transportation Planner for the Iowa Dept. of Transportation, said he and other DOT staff are recommending a Super-2 highway design to the Iowa Transportation Commission. 

There’s no timetable

for when a Super-2 highway might become a reality. It always boils down to a fierce competition for funding. The commission will be looking at the U.S. 30 project with respect to how it fares in comparison to other projects being pitched elsewhere in the state.

“Every year the commission has to figure out where to put less money,” Shea said wryly. “Every year, there’s more need around the state than there is money to go around.”

On the other hand, the state commission also still could side with the highway coalition, Shea said, noting that the DOT still is accepting public input on the fate of U.S. 30.

“(Members of the commission) have that job, and I’m glad I don’t,” he said. “My job as professional staff is to make professional recommendations.”

Shea and other DOT staff held a public meeting Thursday in Clarence to unveil its Super-2 design recommendation for a 45-mile stretch of U.S 30 extending from DeWitt to Lisbon. 

It clashes with what the Highway 30 Coalition envisions. The coalition has been petitioning for a four-lane highway and bypasses for two decades. 

The knowledge that a four-lane U.S. 20 with bypasses was being constructed across the entire state — despite actually having less traffic than U.S. 30 — likely added fuel to the organizers’ arguments. 

In June, about 300 people attended a public meeting in which people were able to see the details of a familiar plan in which the towns of Grand Mound and Calamus would be bypassed to the north. 

The plan also showed U.S. 30 still bypassing the town of Wheatland to the south, but it also would make an adjustment as it passes by the Wheatland Wildlife Area. There is a nearly three-mile stretch of land approaching Wheatland from the east that is designated as federally protected wetlands.

“At this point, we’re doing planning and environmental linkages (referred to as a PEL study),” Shea said. “We’re still pretty high altitude right now, and we haven’t had an opportunity to look at soil samples yet. We have some wetlands that the federal government has to protect. We’re looking at geometry: Are there some curves that need to be flattened out a little bit?”

Shea said the current U.S. 30 route holds up to scrutiny, although they are open to very slight deviations.

 “On U.S. 30 alignment, we are recommending that it stay almost everywhere pretty much on the same alignment where it is today,” he said. “There are some areas where we allow for some shift. There’s various reasons for that.”

The Super-2 designation is a popular alternative to frugal governments because it costs just 15-20% of the cost to upgrading to a four-lane highway.

“Every four to five miles (for this Super-2 design), we have a mile to a mile-and-a-half opportunity to pass somebody, or room for someone to move to the right to allow you to pass,” Shea said. “And then that would collapse, and drivers coming from the opposite direction would have a similar opportunity.”

In the towns themselves, the DOT plans to add two-way left-turn lanes from a center lane, which Shea said will prevent drivers from having to wait behind a turning vehicle. 

Bypasses are not only expensive, they are quite impactful, he said.

“Whenever you have to pursue right-of-way to expand the highway, it’s always a difficult process,” Shea said. “Whether it’s some farmland or part of a residential property, it’s never ideal.”

 Documents handed out at the public meeting show that two previous Super-2 highways elsewhere in Iowa reduced crashes by 49 percent and 67 percent.

One of the biggest drivers for the Highway 30 Coalition was the prospect of jump-starting the regional economy.

However, documents handed out at the event point to the DOT’s conclusion that the “if you build it, they will come” belief is unfounded.

“There is no clear correlation between change in economic trends and four-lane highway expansion observed in Iowa case studies or prior studies outside of Iowa,” the documentation reads. “Analysis suggests that adequate highways support economic growth, but four-lane expansion will not create economic growth on its own.”

The documentation says there are six factors that determine whether highway modifications can spur more growth.

“Economic growth depends on additional drivers, population growth, presence of an educated workforce, proximity to markets, local economic development policies and amenities,” the documents say.