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Highway 61 Coalition : 29 Miles to Go

Jason Parrott
The groundbreaking ceremony for a six-mile stretch of Highway 61 in Louisa County was celebrated by city, county, state and business leaders.

Bob Beck was all smiles as he stood before a crowd of about 30 people at the groundbreaking ceremony for the latest four-lane expansion of Highway 61 in Louisa County.

Beck, who chairs the Highway 61 Coalition, said it was a good day for drivers, for businesses, for residents, and for southeast Iowa as a whole.
"It's great.  We love it," said Beck.  "It's the first of about five projects, I think, that need to happen and we will have ourselves a complete road to Burlington."

The coalition has been pushing for a four-lane Highway 61 from Keokuk to Dubuque.  It believes a four-lane corridor would improve safety, boost economic development, and enhance the quality of life.

Slowly, but surely, the goal is becoming a reality.

All that remains is a 35-mile stretch of two-lane roadway between Burlington and the Muscatine/Louisa County Line.

The April 10th groundbreaking marked the ceremonial start of construction for the expansion of six of those miles, from the Muscatine/Louisa County line to a point about six-miles south of Highway 92.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Improving the safety at the 61/92 intersection is a top priority for this project.

The $50-million project is expected to be completed within three years.

Jim Armstrong, District Engineer, said safety was a key reason why the Iowa Department of Transportation funded this project.  He pointed specifically to the existing, at-grade intersection of Highways 61 and 92.

“Unfortunately, there have been fatalities at this intersection and that justifies (the road expansion project) through safety," said Armstrong.  "A two-lane roadway system with the traffic that we have and the intersection with people and its accident history, we want to correct that.”

The project calls for interchanges at the 61/92 intersection and in front of a nearby school building.

David Rose, chair of the Iowa Transportation Commission, spoke during the groundbreaking ceremony.  He told supporters they must be at the commission meetings if they want any chance of completing the four-lane Highway 61 corridor.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Crews have already started prep work in anticipation of a six-mile expansion of Highway 61 in Louisa County

"You have to have your presence there," said Rose.  "The larger cities (like Cedar Rapids) have really picked up their ball game and I think we all have to be there as well."

Bob Beck took Chairman Rose's statements to heart.

"The (Highway 61) Coalition needs to be at more (commission) meetings," said Beck.  "We have been trying to address that.  We do plan on being there Tuesday (when the coalition meets) in Davenport."

Beck said the Iowa Transportation Commission will meet in Burlington in August, giving the Highway 61 Coalition a home-court advantage to make its case for a four-lane Highway 61 corridor.

The DOT is currently conducting environmental work on the remaining 29-mile stretch so it is ready to go when money becomes available.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.