ROCKWELL CITY, Iowa | Parents traveling with kids who need bathroom breaks can rest easier. The long stretch with no amenities for gas, food or restrooms on U.S. Highway 20 has been greatly shortened.
Sparky's One Stop truck stop opened Friday at the highway's intersection with Iowa Highway 4, five miles north of Rockwell City. Travelers along the four-lane stretch of the highway previously had a 72-mile gap from Early, Iowa, to Webster City, Iowa, without services.
Jeff Donaldson travels from Sioux City to see his daughter at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls about 25 times a year. Knowing well the paucity of options, Donaldson often grabs some snacks in Early when bound east.
"It is a long stretch," Donaldson said. "There is nothing between Casey's (in Early) and Webster City."
The Iowa Department of Transportation has been working to modernize the 300-mile highway from two to four lanes. That was accomplished more quickly in eastern Iowa.
As the western Iowa portion increasingly was converted to four lanes, the highway was shifted north and no longer runs directly through towns such as Sac City, Rockwell City and Lytton. As a result, few amenities have been available to Highway 20 travelers.
Iowa Department of Transportation Planner Dakin Schultz welcomes the Sparky's addition.
"The one complaint or concern we hear most often is the lack of motorist services along the new route. The opening of the new store near Highway 20 and Iowa Highway 4 should help with those concerns," Schultz said.
Backers of the highway widening have predicted that with a better road would come more business, both on the highway with motorist services and nearby in other types of businesses.
The daily Highway 20 traffic counts compiled by IDOT have risen since more of the highway became four lanes in western Iowa. A considerable spike has occurred after two stretches were widened, in 2010 from Moorland to Rockwell City and in 2012 from Rockwell City to Early. The average daily traffic counts at Rockwell City have risen from 3,578 in 2011 to 4,745 in 2013.
It was the prospect of additional traffic that spurred Rollin and Mark Tiefenthaler, of Breda, Iowa, to open the truck stop. Rollin Tiefenthaler owns 27 Sparky's in west-central Iowa, and the new one is the largest.
"We figured there would be more use. The better the road gets, the more traffic there will be," Tiefenthaler said.
Calhoun County Economic Development Director Pam Anderson said the Sparky's opening is an encouraging sign, and ideally more businesses will locate along the new thoroughfare.
"We've had some other interest by other businesses out there," Anderson said.
Anderson said other firms may not jump to build until extensive water infrastructure is added. Those additions could approach $1 million in cost.
Anderson said the Calhoun County Board has discussed adding the infrastructure, but has no money for the project. She said county officials have discussed borrowing to pay for the work.
Tiefenthaler said he wants the state transportation department to fully complete modernization, to more substantially boost prospects for economic expansion. Earlier this month, the Iowa Transportation Commission passed a five-year plan that keeps on track plans to expand the highway to four lanes from Correctionville to Moville by 2018, at a cost of $82 million.
But there is no new funding for Highway 20 in 2019, the fifth year of the new plan. Once the 12-mile Correctionville-Moville section is done, only 29 miles in Ida and Sac counties of the 300-mile highway will remain a two-lane road.
After some delays, Tiefenthaler didn't meet a goal to open by the Memorial Day holiday. But he's glad to be open a week before Independence Day. He predicted a lot of people going to nearby Twin Lakes recreational options for the holiday.
The building is 6,400 square feet, with five islands of fuel pumps, three for gas, two for diesel for trucks. The truck stop will contain showers for truckers, and a host of food options, including Godfather's Pizza. Tiefenthaler said it will be another good Sparky's, where people can expect sound service and products.
He hopes more businesses will locate at the same intersection or nearby.
"Traffic is always an opportunity," Tiefenthaler said.