Kyle Oppenhuizenis the Business Record’s  Transportation beat reporter.Have an idea or tip? (515) 661-6086kyleoppenhuizen@bpcdm.comTwitter: @KyleOppenhuizen
Kyle Oppenhuizenis the Business Record’s  Transportation beat reporter.
Have an idea or tip? (515) 661-6086
Twitter: @KyleOppenhuizen

Southwest update

Southwest Airlines Co. is still planning to begin twice-daily flights between Des Moines and Chicago on Sept. 30, but it hasn’t yet announced any additional service out of Des Moines. Des Moines International Airport Executive Director Don Smithey still believes that Des Moines presents a strong case for a connection to additional markets. “We have good numbers to Las Vegas, Phoenix, St. Louis, Orlando, Houston, Dallas; all of those would make good sense,” Smithey said. “But it’s up to them to make those decisions.” Smithey points out that the only influence he has in the decision is making sure Southwest knows the market information. In the meantime, he is busy working with officials to set up Southwest operations at the airport between now and Sept. 30.

Name your scenario

Officials from the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will unveil potential future planning scenarios as part of the Tomorrow Plan at an event on Aug. 2 at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. The Tomorrow Plan is a long-term regional development planning process. Officials will display a number of scenarios showing what the region could look like in 2050. They’ve already released a “Business as Usual” model, which uses current zoning restrictions and development patterns to show a high amount of suburban development and a potential loss of 50 percent of the region’s farmland. Along with that, officials will display a modified “Business as Usual” model; a model using comprehensive plans of communities in the region; a best practices model; and a regional priority scenario using responses from the plan’s “Design My DSM” online game. MPO Executive Director Todd Ashby would like to get as much public input as possible to help in developing a final plan. The MPO is also beginning the process of updating its long-term plan for the organization, as required by federal law. Ashby anticipates The Tomorrow Plan playing a large role in the MPO’s long term plan.

DART deals with route changes

The Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) went through its first round of route changes in June, and things have gone smoothly so far, said spokesman Gunnar Olson. The changes primarily affected express routes, and although express ridership has fallen slightly since the changes, it’s too early to pass judgment, he said. Ridership numbers in the summer tend to fluctuate, and route changes typically bring an initial decrease in ridership followed by a larger increase when riders and potential riders get used to the new route. More changes are scheduled to take place in November, when the authority’s new hub, DART Central Station, opens. In other DART news, officials are still pushing forward with plans to implement a bus rapid transit rail-like bus route. Officials believe DART’s proposed line, which would go through downtown and loop around University and Ingersoll avenues, could still qualify for federal funding under the latest federal transportation bill passed in early July. DART’s local funding drive took a hit when the Iowa Legislature declined funding for the line this year, but the organization is still hoping to raise $5 million in local money through other sources.

Project updates

Ankeny interchange: A new Interstate 35 interchange at Northeast 36th Street in Ankeny is still on track to be completed by the end of the year, said Paul Moritz, public works director for the city of Ankeny. As part of the project, the section of roadway around the interchange is being reconstructed slightly to the east, and the northbound portion was recently completed. The interchange project goes hand in hand with a related project, a widening of Northeast 36th Street from the future I-35 exit to Delaware Avenue. That project is also on track to be completed by the end of the year, Moritz said.

5/65 redesigntation: The Iowa Department of Transportation and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization are set to release an operational study on a potential redesignation of the U.S. Highway 65/Iowa Highway 5 bypass as an interstate highway. A draft of the study has been sent to the Federal Highway Administration for review. The study will look at what would have to happen to get the roadway up to interstate standards, which could include improving some design issues such as curves and shoulder widths.

Southeast Connector: The city of Des Moines recently received a $10 million federal grant for the Southeast Connector project. Officials have already secured money to extend Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway from Southeast Ninth Street to Southeast 14th Street. The additional money will help extend the road to Southeast 30th Street. Officials had hoped for $30 million from the latest grant, and because of the shortfall, they have scaled the project back to a two-lane road instead of four, which still leaves the option to expand in the future. The project’s original cost was $65 million but was dropped to $50 million, leaving the city with $5 million more to obtain. Des Moines has another federal application in for the remaining funding. The city will take construction bids next year, officials said, and hopes to complete the project in 2016.

ONE question: How does an election year affect the Iowa Department of Transportation’s ability to move forward with projects?

“It doesn’t hinder any movement that we have. Election year brings, a lot of times, maybe more interest in the projects that we do, and understanding of the investments that are being made. A lot of times during an election year, I think transportation is a strong topic of conversation, that a lot of elected individuals or people in contested races are having conversations about. A lot of times what an election year means is we are just getting a lot more inquiries about clarifying information about what’s in a program and those types of things. In my view, that’s a great thing.” - Paul Trombino III, director, Iowa Department of Transportation