The debut of 26 more miles of four-lane U.S. Highway 20 on Nov. 21, 2012, prompted a celebration by officials and transportation advocates, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
''It really benefits the entire state to have this efficient transportation system,'' Branstad said to the more than 400 people in attendance.
After a ceremonial ribbon was snipped, attendees gathered at the United Methodist Church in Early for a reception. But before any of that officially organized activity took place, a handful of drivers traveling over the new route, which stretches from Iowa Highway 4 near Rockwell City to U.S. Highway 71 north of Early, signaled their approval with a serenade of car and truck horns.
-Messenger file photo
After singing for guests at the U.S. Highway 20 ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 21, 2012, students from Ridge View Middle Choir formed a giant 20 along the road.
"This segment was built extremely well, extremely fast, and opens new doors of opportunity for northwest Iowa," said Shirley Phillips, president of the U.S. 20 Association, a group that lobbies for the expressway's completion, and executive director of Sac Economic and Tourism Development.
"Our futures are a little brighter today because of this investment in transportation infrastructure," she said.
Paul Trombino, the director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said a four-lane highway provides vital safety benefits as well as economic development opportunities.
"Ultimately, what you see out here is a much safer road for the traveling public," he said.
With the completion of the latest portion of the expressway in Calhoun and Sac counties, U.S. 20 is a four-lane highway for all but 44 miles of its more than 300-mile trek across the state.
The 2012 segment opened a year earlier than scheduled. Good weather and a $750,000 incentive offered by the Iowa Department of Transportation compelled construction crews to progress quickly, according to Tony Lazarowicz, a district engineer for the Department of Transportation,
The U.S. 20 expressway is a project more than five decades in the making.
The first segment opened on Oct. 19, 1958, east of Moville.
Construction continued on disconnected pieces of the expressway throughout the state. In north central Iowa, a southerly bypass of Webster City opened in 1976.
That stretch of highway is presently undergoing construction. Westbound lanes between Webster City and U.S. Highway 69 in Hamilton County were rebuilt in 2012.
Four-lane Highway 20 has connected Fort Dodge with Interstate 35 since 1987. In 1990, Highway 20 was rerouted on a new alignment south of the city.
The 1990s marked a low ebb for the U.S. 20 project.
However, construction on the expressway has been continuous since 2000. Over the past 12 years, more than 65 miles of four-lane highway have been added to the corridor.
In 2005, the four-lane highway was extended from U.S. Highway 169 to Moorland in Webster County.
An 18-mile section opened between Moorland and Highway 4 in late 2010.
The route will continue to see construction over the next several years - though no final completion date has yet been set.
According to the 2013-2017 state transportation plan, paving for the 11.5 miles from the east end of the expressway near Moville to Correctionville is programmed for 2016. A segment within Correctionville city limits is programmed for paving in 2015.
Grading and paving of the remaining segments in Woodbury, Ida, and Sac counties has not been programmed.