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Port Neal interchange

The Port Neal interchange at exit 135 on Interstate 29 is shown in a 2012 file photo. A new traffic model shows the estimated $20 million cost for a proposed interchange  between Sergeant Bluff and Port Neal could not be justified, Woodbury County supervisors heard Tuesday.    

SIOUX CITY | Based on a traffic model, a new Interstate 29 interchange  between Sergeant Bluff and Port Neal could not be justified, officials said. But if the proposed ramps can be shown to boost economic development in rural Woodbury County the $20 million project could still move forward, county supervisors heard Tuesday.    

At the board's weekly meeting, chairman Matthew Ung gave an update on the work underway to convince the Iowa Department of Transportation to fund and build the long-sought interchange.

At a stakeholder meeting last week, Ung said a traffic model finalized by the IDOT did not justify the estimated $20 million cost of the interchange that would be built somewhere between mile markers 136 and 140.

Sandwiched between the Port Neal industrial area and Sioux Gateway Airport and Sergeant Bluff, the interchange would provide access to Sioux City's Southbridge Business Park.

Sioux City, Woodbury County, the cities of Sergeant Bluff and Salix and the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce since 2012 have cooperated to push IDOT to add the new exit to boost new development by helping to create large  shovel-ready industrial sites. The entities have combined to pay for a $600,000 Interstate Justification Report, which will be completed next month and be formally presented to the DOT. 

Ung said the county is currently having consultants review the project to identify any economic development factors that could give the report some added context to illustrate its importance. 

"That is a different case for us to make to the taxpayers," Ung said. "That will be the big decision at the next meeting" of the Iowa Transportation Commission.

"Of course (the interchange) would help. The question is, 'Does it justify the cost to all the stakeholders?'" Ung said. "This is a very large project that will take several years. If it is speculative, the commission may not approve it. But if they see encouraging signs in the area they may agree with that characterization.

"From an economic development standpoint, it makes sense. From a financial standpoint, that is where the stakeholders will have to decide."

Woodbury County Engineer Mark Nahra in October 2016 advised 13 landowners in an 860-acre tract near the Port Neal Industrial Area that crews were beginning work on an archaeological study. The study found that there were not any artifacts or other items that need to be taken into account in the quest of determining the best place for a new exit. The study has a three-year shelf life, Ung said.

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Crime and general assignment reporter

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