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Sioux Center set to expand US Highway 75 in new $29M project

By NICK HYTREKJuly 13, 2019
South Main Street, also known as U.S. Highway 75, is shown Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Sioux Center, Iowa. A plan to widen the highway through town has been placed on the Iowa Department of Transportation five-year construction plan. (Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal via AP)
South Main Street, also known as U.S. Highway 75, is shown Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Sioux Center, Iowa. A plan to widen the highway through town has been placed on the Iowa Department of Transportation five-year construction plan. (Tim Hynds/Sioux City Journal via AP)

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa (AP) — Sioux Center’s persistence and perseverance paid off.

For nearly a decade, city leaders have pursued an expansion of U.S. Highway 75 through the heart of the city. Plans took a few detours along the way, but the Iowa Transportation Commission on June 11 added the $29 million project to the state’s five-year highway construction plan.

The action put the project in the cruising lane toward completion, upgrading a worn-out road and, the city hopes, improving safety, easing traffic congestion and contributing to ongoing development in this growing community.

“We’re excited because it’s going to be a huge improvement for our community and clearing up that corridor,” city manager Scott Wynja told the Sioux City Journal. “To me, it ties in very well with the growth we’re seeing in the community.”

Utilizing revenue collected from the 2015 state gas tax increase, the transportation commission allocated $250,000 for right of way acquisition in 2022 and $20 million in 2023 for grading and paving. Sioux Center will contribute more than $9 million for design and engineering, administration, utility relocation along the highway and additional safety enhancements. The city will use tax increment financing and state road use tax funds to fund its share of the costs, Wynja said.

Plans call for three miles of U.S. 75 from 20th Street SE to 12th Street NE to be expanded from the current alignment of one lane of traffic each way with a center left-turn lane to a four-lane highway with a center turn lane or a median in some spots.

The thought of a wider highway concerns some residents, who wonder how easy it will be to walk across more lanes of traffic.

“I think safety is still a big concern for a lot of people,” said Rachel Hoogeveen, chairwoman of Sioux Center Citizens for Responsible Growth, a local city government watchdog group.

Also of concern is how widening will impact residents along the expansion route. Some will lose portions of their front yards and driveways. Mature trees that provide a picturesque drive through town may be uprooted. Parking in front of businesses could be impacted.

“I think most people want to see the road itself improved because it is in rough shape, but for some people the road is about their homes,” Hoogeveen said. “Some people just really do not see it as necessary.”

The design has yet to be finalized, Wynja said, but the highway will be widened by 10-15 feet on each side, directly impacting at least 25 residential and business property owners. Wynja said the city will continue to talk with affected owners and conduct public meetings to hear concerns during the next 18 months while the design is completed.

The city has added medians, center crosswalks and other safety features to the design over the years in response to the public’s safety concerns, Wynja said.

“By adding some of those features, I think the council is being responsive to the community,” he said.

The city hopes that the wider highway will alleviate traffic congestion that occurs when residents go to work in the morning, during the lunch hour and at the end of the work day. The most recent Iowa Department of Transportation traffic count in 2015 showed a range of 10,200-12,900 vehicles per day within the downtown business corridor, nearing the road’s designed capacity of 14,000 vehicles. Engineers predict traffic could hit that level by 2025.

“Certainly, it’ll increase capacity. Traffic has grown there on U.S. 75,” IDOT District 3 transportation planner Dakin Schultz said of the expansion.

The road’s condition is of equal concern. Concrete beneath the asphalt dates back to the 1920s and ’30s. IDOT crews have continually patched the highway and replaced the asphalt over the years, but it’s near the end of its life span, Schultz said.

“It’s time for replacement,” he said.

It’s been a long time coming.

In 2012, the transportation commission added the project, then costing $6.7 million, to the IDOT’s five-year construction plan.

The commission pulled it from the plan in 2013 when the Sioux Center City Council tabled the proposal after citizens raised concerns about it and what they considered a lack of information provided to the public.

In 2015, a $4 million bond issue to provide funding for highway improvements failed to gain the 60% “super majority” needed to pass.

The city pitched a new $29 million plan to the transportation commission with no success in 2017. The city appeared before the commission again last fall, making its successful appeal for the expansion.

The U.S. 75 project continues Sioux Center’s growth trend. The city’s population, estimated at 7,600, is increasing by about 100 people each year, a rate that’s expected to continue, Wynja said. A new Sioux County airport opened near here last fall. Voters in February approved a $24.9 million bond issue to finance construction of a new high school. A new housing development is in the works.

An improved U.S. 75 should fit right in and enhance those and other developments, Wynja said.

“To me, it’s a direct reflection on what Sioux Center is and what we want it to be,” he said.

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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