CORRECTIONVILLE, Iowa | Huge dump trucks haul away old concrete and bring in fill dirt.
Miles of pavement has been laid and and bridge decks have been poured. All that construction activity is lining up toward a major goal of the Iowa Department of Transportation -- and raptly watched by Siouxlanders -- to complete a huge modernization of U.S. Highway 20 in Woodbury, Ida and Sac counties within the next 12 months.
With the previously announced November 2018 completion goal now one year away, an IDOT official said the massive project of widening the highway from two to four lanes is on pace to be met. In fact, it could come a bit sooner.
"We are actually looking prior to Nov. 1," toward late October, state DOT Traffic Planner Dakin Schultz said in an interview. "Everything is on schedule."
Throughout 2017, more pieces of the highway were completed, so people have been able to drive on some new sections in two-way traffic, while also closely watching work proceeding on two other adjacent lanes. One example came in June, when a four-mile section opened east of Correctionville to Cushing.
As work continues, another piece of good news came Friday, when the main detour along Highway 20 ended. The detour from Galva to Early began a year ago, with plans for it to last two years until the whole highway project was done.
That detour added about six miles and 10 minutes to the travel time for drivers. Schultz said the detour is not expected to be put back in place for 2018, and it will only return in the spring if the contractor elects to bring it back.
Another big step is coming in December, when all four lanes will open from Correctionville, west for three miles to Minnesota Avenue, which leads to Pierson, Iowa.
"That is another milestone we are hitting," Schultz said.
Valerie Snmutzer, of Kingsley, Iowa, said she has avoided the highway during the construction, saying it's a "hassle" to drive.
"I am always glad when construction is done," Smutzer said.
Forty miles of Highway 20 are being moved from two to four lanes from Moville to Early, under a project announced by IDOT in June 2015, with an initially-announced price tag of $286 million. That boost to the long-sought modernization came within weeks of the state gasoline tax being bumped up by 10 cents per gallon, delivering much more revenue to the state agency.
Schultz told the Journal in April that costs were running much below the $286 million estimate set by IDOT two years ago. Schultz said after contracts were set following the bidding process, the projected cost is $215 million, a roughly 25-percent reduction from the earlier estimate.
Highway 20 crosses the entire state, covering roughly 300 miles from Sioux City to Dubuque. The push to turn the east-west road into a four-lane expressway is nearly 60 years in the making.
The first portion to be widened to four lanes was between Moville and Sioux City. That occurred in 1958, with a few miles near Dubuque following in 1959. After that, eastern and central parts were converted to four lanes, long before the remaining segments in western Iowa were finally addressed.
Said Smutzer, age 31, "For people older than me, (highway officials) have been working on it for as long as they can remember. It has been a lifetime project."
The construction activities on Highway 20 never completely ended over the 2016-17 winter. Work won't shut down this winter, either, it will just be reduced. Schultz said tasks will continue on bridge decks at the Boyer River and over two creeks.
"As long as the ground is not frozen, the contractors can continue to haul dirt," Schultz said.
In 2017, east of Correctionville, to Holstein, new eastbound lanes were paved and westbound lanes were graded. Also in Ida County, from Holstein to Galva, the westbound lanes were paved, eastbound lanes were graded and two bridges over the Maple River were built. In Sac County, toward Early, westbound lanes were graded and paved this year.
Schultz said the project made much headway due to the concerted work by contractors, who often seized the option of working weekend days and well into evenings. He said contractors marshaled their resources of personnel and machinery, and "made the project a priority."
Northwest Iowa people have sought the project to boost the prospects of area businesses. Others want the safety of a modern Highway 20, so ambulances can drive more safely without being jostled by a pock-marked two-lane.
By the time the work is finished is done, 12 million cubic yards of dirt will be hauled away.
In 2018, the project will wrap with a final flourish of grading and paving. A big piece of that will include eastbound lanes in Ida and Sac counties.
Smutzer pointed to pleasure when U.S. Highway 20 is done, since she likes that the speed limit will rise from 55 mph to 65 mph.
"That will be nice," she said.