HOLSTEIN, Iowa — When Stacy Brown looks at the Holstein Travel Center in Ida County and sees large trucks from Menards, Target, Walmart and Lowe’s fueling up at gas pumps, she knows the modernization of U.S. Highway 20 has paid the anticipated dividends.
Brown said rural Northwest Iowans from small towns for many years have journeyed west to shop in large businesses in Sioux City. So she likes the turnabout, in seeing trucks from such familiar chain businesses buying fuel in Holstein at the center she owns.
Speaking on Thursday, Brown had one more anecdote to depict the increased stream of cars through Holstein, at the one-year mark since the final section of Highway 20 with two lanes was broadened to four lanes.
She often crosses from the travel center, which has a stop sign before drivers can pull onto the Highway 20 lanes or head north on U.S. Highway 59 into the main part of Holstein. Brown said frequently she may have to idle for a bit, and 20 to 30 vehicles will pass by.
„You’ve got to wait. It is definitely a visible increase,“ Brown said.
More concretely, traffic statistics from the Iowa Department of Transportation bear out what Brown has observed.
„The four-lane U.S. 20 project has been complete and open for a year. As anticipated, the automatic traffic recorder sites in western Iowa are showing measurable increases in the volumes of traffic utilizing U.S. 20,“ IDOT official Dakin Schultz said this week.
There are several western sections of Highway 20 where IDOT compilations of monthly recordings showed growth above 10 percent. One whopping jump came at 32 percent, in a counter three miles west of Holstein, for a comparison from September 2018 to September 2019.
That spike in traffic over the two Septembers from a daily average of 4,430 to 5,859, closely represents the year since the highway expanded near Holstein. After that section opened, the counts went from 4,495 in October 2018 to 4,621 in November, then fell lower in winter months, as is often the case in counts done by IDOT on other highways.
Previously into the 1980s, with the exception of 15 miles from Sioux City to Moville, only the eastern two-thirds of Iowa had four lanes.
In the last dozen years, 20-to-25-mile sections with four lanes were opened. First was a segment from Moorland to Rockwell City. Then came Rockwell City to Early, in a layout more to the north and bypassing most towns, such as Sac City. That left a 40-mile section with two lanes back to Moville.
The Iowa Legislature approved a 10-cent increase in the state gasoline tax in 2015, and within months the Iowa Transportation Commission used that extra revenue to slate the completion of Highway 20 in Woodbury, Ida and Sac counties. That resulted in a three-year flurry of work, in a $215 million endeavor that finally moved all 300 miles across Iowa to four lanes, 60 years after the Sioux City to Moville section had been broadened.
The Highway 20 traffic counts compiled by IDOT rose as more of the highway became four lanes in western Iowa. A considerable spike in traffic occurred after two stretches were widened in 2010 from Moorland to Rockwell City and in 2012 from Rockwell City to Early.
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa — Sioux Center’s persistence and perseverance paid off.
In new numbers reviewed by the Journal this week, the counter at Rockwell City showed the average daily count rose from 7,086 in September 2018 to 8,192 this September, for an increase of 15.6 percent.
In a counter on a Highway 20 location that has long had four lanes in Woodbury County, a recap at Lawton showed traffic rose to 14,391, or up by nearly 14 percent, when comparing the last two Junes.
It was the prospect of additional traffic that spurred Rollin and Mark Tiefenthaler, of Breda, Iowa, to open a truck stop and Sparky’s store at Rockwell City, 45 miles east of Holstein in Calhoun County. Brown and her team of owners, following the same logic as the Tiefenthalers, wanted to get in early on improved areas of the highway.
Brown said the Holstein-based group of investors is glad they opened the travel center in 2015. It has a Hardee’s restaurant, plus a nearby hotel, with the Cobblestone brand, after a switch from Boulders Inn, for the facility with 32 rooms and a conference center.
„Overall, we are pleased with it. We were happy when construction was done and over. We’ve seen a nice increase in travelers coming through,“ Brown said.
Brown had a third anecdotal benchmark for how widely people are traveling on modernized Highway 20. She makes a habit of looking at the license plates of people pulling into the Holstein Travel Center for food, gas and souvenirs. Those are heavy on both distant Iowa counties and Midwest states, plus others further away.
„It is just really impressive, the different states we see and the vast number of cars from Iowa,“ Brown said.
Tiffani Smith has lived for several years in Correctionville. Smith said she’s noticed a lot more truck traffic on Highway 20 since the opening of the new stretch, and she likes the quality, whether heading west to Sioux City for work or east to Lake View for recreation.
„I like it much better. I feel safer with it being a four-lane,“ Smith said.