LATEST PROGRESS:

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released a report saying it could cost more than $22 million to upgrade Des Moines’ Iowa Highway 5/U.S. Highway 65 bypass to an interstate, although it might take significantly less money. The report looked at the improvements necessary to redesignate the stretch of highway as an interstate. Officials from the DOT, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Greater Des Moines Partnership met to discuss the project earlier in the month.




WHAT PROPONENTS SAY:

The Partnership and Des Moines International Airport both support the redesignation.

From the Partnership’s perspective, the economic development benefits of the project would outweigh any costs. The reason: An interstate loop around the area would attract people and potentially businesses.“The federal interstate system is a strong, reliable system,” said Matt Hinch, senior vice president of government relations and public policy at the Partnership. “So that speaks volumes for people who are willing to locate or expand or put their companies close to reliable transportation.”

Communities outside the loop also would benefit from a redesignation, he said.

Don Smithey, executive director of Des Moines International Airport, says that renaming the bypass an interstate would make the airport appear more accessible to people outside the area and to people who live within a three-hour drive who would consider flying out of Des Moines.

Some aviation experts predict that the number of airports will dwindle in coming years.

“In our case, there’s several pretty good-sized markets within a (short) drive from here,” Smithey said. “So if we can make it easy for them, make it nonstop, and not mix it up with the traffic in downtown in the morning and evenings, it would certainly make it more accessible to the airport.”

Would that lead to more passengers? That’s possible, Smithey said, but it’s hard to put a number on it. But when you make the little things easier, “it all adds up,” he said.


POTENTIAL ROADBLOCKS:

The DOT study identified areas where the roadway has design deficiencies that may need to be addressed. In all, the DOT estimated the total cost of upgrading at $22.7 million, along with $800,000 for new signs to reflect the name change.

However, it’s possible that the federal government could grant exemptions on some or all of the design deficiencies, which would make the initial base cost around $1 million, said Todd Ashby, executive director of the MPO. Some exemptions could be granted by lowering the speed limit or finding less expensive solutions for upgrades.

As long as the road meets safety requirements, “we wouldn’t have to correct probably to the full extent what they were talking about in that report,” Ashby said. That could leave the door open to fixing some issues in the long term rather than immediately.

It’s undecided at this point who would pay how much, Ashby said, but it would be a mix of state, federal and local dollars.



NEXT STEPS:

The Iowa DOT will have to request that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) redesignate the road as an interstate. The FHWA would have to agree to the project and forward it to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Ashby said.

If officials decide this is something they want to pursue, Ashby said, the proposal to the FHWA would likely happen within six months.

“I think we’re optimistic, but there are still a lot of things to be addressed,” Ashby said. “I know that everybody is wanting to see if we can make this happen. But we’ve got to be prudent and careful with limited resources. We need to make sure that it’s a viable thing to do, and plan accordingly.”