U.S 52 - Dubuque's SW Arterial - They said it couldn’t be built

Large-Letter-postcard-linen-Dubuque-Iowa-IA-EagleNearly 40 years after it was originally proposed, the U.S. 52 project, known to locals as the Southwest Arterial, in Dubuque is nearing completion. The joint project between the Iowa Department of Transportation and the City of Dubuque proves that perseverance pays off.

Connecting local industrial centers to each other and the rest of the Midwest and the world is the driving force for completion of this 6.1-mile, four-lane divided freeway that will provide and modern transportation alternative through southwestern Dubuque, linking the Dubuque Technology Park on US 61/151 with the new Dubuque Industrial Center West and the existing Dubuque Industrial Center near U.S 20.

Dubuque Industrial Park

Once the project is opened to traffic in 2020, the city estimates the Southwest Arterial has the potential to generate $80 million in property taxes, $1.67 billion in economic output, $653 million in labor income, and $1.02 billion in value-added from 2021-2030.

The new roadway is also expected to improve safety and mobility in the area as the majority of freight traffic will be routed on U.S. 52 instead of using the heavily congested highway corridor through Dubuque.

A little about the area

IMG_5054If you’ve ever been to Dubuque or read anything about the geography of the area, it isn’t your typical flat Iowa farm ground. It is, in fact, one of Iowa’s most interesting and historic geologic regions. The city is built on buried Maquoketa Shale, named for the nearby Maquoketa River. The shale is very fragile and disintegrates into dust when exposed to air.

As interesting as the geology of the area may be, the shale is not very stable, making it less than ideal for roadbeds or slopes. That instability, in addition to other transportation priorities, caused the initial Iowa DOT plan for the U.S. 52 project to be put on a shelf in the late 1980s.

City on a mission

Completing this project speaks to the tenacity of the city leaders of Dubuque. The Dubuque City Council, the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors, Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, and Dubuque Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMATS) have identified the completion of the Southwest Arterial (U.S. 52) Project as the number one surface transportation priority in the Dubuque area.

Even though the Iowa DOT didn’t have the U.S. 52 project in its sights at the time, in 2003, Dubuque city leaders applied for and were awarded a nearly $2 million Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) Surface Transportation Program grant to begin the preliminary design. Over the next decade, the design was refined and further funding secured to prepare for construction. Over time the city was able to secure approximately $32 in federal, state and local funding.

Collaboration moves the project forward

Iowa DOT Engineer Roger Walton

Iowa DOT Engineer Roger Walton has been part of the project since 2002. He said, “The cooperative nature of this project has been interesting to watch over time. Even though the Iowa DOT wasn’t pursuing this project, the city leaders continued to lay the groundwork with the design, relocation of utilities, and purchase of right of way. I haven’t been involved with a project that a city has been in charge of the design on a major highway project, so this was a new way of doing business.”

City of Dubuque Assistant City Engineer Bob Schiesl

Assistant City Engineer Bob Schiesl has been Walton’s counterpart on the U.S. 52 project. He said, “The communication between Roger and I over the years and the relationship we’ve developed has really helped move this project along. We can speak openly and honestly with each other, which has been very beneficial.”

Another element that got the ball rolling on this project was a new technology to help stabilize the slopes above the roadbeds. Walton said, “Since the area isn’t flat, there are several areas where the roadbed sits below tall embankments. A new technology called “soil nailing” provided a way to stabilize the roadside embankments to reduce the risk of landslides in the future.”

With major construction set to wrap up 2020, the $168 million project includes 13 new bridges on 6.1 miles of roadway. Schiesl said, “The local response has been so positive. People see the progress and understand the significant changes this corridor will bring to Dubuque, especially for commuters.”

Each month the city of Dubuque produces a video to keep everyone informed of the progress.





This project is scheduled to open in 2020.

What is now officially open ? Please advise.

Congratulations Dubuque and The Iowa DOT! A remarkable feat of Highway Engineering and Construction!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Have a comment?


©  Iowa Department of Transportation.  All rights reserved.