Our transportation system is an ever-evolving network of highways, railways, airports, transit hubs, waterways, and trails. Transportation needs can be driven by many factors, with the largest driver of recent change being the pandemic. Planning for the long-term future of an adaptable transportation system takes expert data analysis and an understanding of how best to move people and goods. The Iowa Department of Transportation carries out long-range transportation planning to help guide our transportation system into the future.
Iowa In Motion – our long-range transportation plan
Updated every five years, the long-range transportation plan (Iowa in Motion 2045) is our state’s broadest, multimodal planning effort undertaken by the Iowa Transportation Commission and Iowa DOT. With the 2017 version, Iowa DOT planners shifted from a policy document to a plan with specific action items designed to move the transportation system forward. That plan, and the 2017 State Freight Plan that deals specifically with freight movements are currently being revamped as part of a regular update cycle.
Garrett Pedersen from the Systems Planning Bureau leads the team working on the planning efforts. He said, “For the update to “Iowa in Motion” especially, we’re looking to better define what we’re trying to achieve on the transportation system and then more closely align the work that is being or will be done over the next several years with those objectives.”
Pedersen says the plan considers all transportation modes and maintains the strong emphasis on stewardship that was included in both the 2012 and 2017 versions. An internal planning steering committee, with representation from nearly all Iowa DOT bureaus, starting with the design process and moving all the way through to project delivery and including all modes, will help define the vision, issues and needs, and action plan for the updated document.
Key planned enhancements include the following.
Pedersen stressed that the planning effort is focused on safety and maintaining the existing system. When an area is identified that doesn’t function as it should, the plan will likely focus on improving the operation of the existing system before considering building additional infrastructure. He said, “We’re working to ensure that projects focus on the rightsized improvements – those that address current and future need without over- or under-building. The overarching goal is to maintain and improve mobility for travelers and shippers.”
While rightsizing will be more explicitly discussed in the new plan, rightsizing concepts were included in the 2017 plan as well. Pedersen said, “In the current plan, one element that we emphasized was the ‘Super-2’ highway design. A Super-2 highway is a two-lane highway with improvements to help enhance mobility and safety such as added lanes for passing, climbing or turning; wider paved shoulders; limited access; and other roadway design improvements.”
A key element a rural Super-2 highway provides is an added passing lane at certain intervals. This allows faster moving vehicles to pass slower-moving vehicles and farm equipment without passing into oncoming traffic, improving both safety and mobility. It is more cost-effective than building a four-lane highway but provides many of the benefits. Since the 2017 plan, design guidelines for Super-2 highways have been developed; the Super-2 concept has been studied for several project areas on the five targeted corridors of U.S. 18, 30, 34, 63, and 71; and initial Super-2 projects have been programmed in the 2021-2025 Iowa Transportation Improvement Program.
In addition to the rightsizing of projects, another focus for the upcoming plan will be resiliency for roadways that can experience very adverse conditions, like the ones we saw with the 2019 Missouri River floods that caused significant damage to roads and bridges in Southwest Iowa. Pedersen said, “We’re starting an analysis that will evaluate the resiliency of our highway system, identifying locations that may be more vulnerable to flood damage, but are critical for keeping travelers and shippers moving. This should help designers identify opportune locations to consider resiliency improvements on future projects to hopefully help our roads stand up to extreme events like 2019 floods.”
Look for more information and opportunities to provide input on the latest plan, due to be adopted by the Iowa Transportation Commission in 2022. Pedersen said, “As with previous planning efforts, we’ll be reaching out to stakeholders and the public through online public surveys and social media, as well as other, more direct contacts in the near future.”
To find out more about this planning effort, go to https://iowadot.gov/iowainmotion.
Iowa’s State Freight Plan
In conjunction with the update to “Iowa in Motion,” the State Freight Plan is also being updated from its inaugural 2017 version. This plan focuses specifically on identifying challenges and opportunities to improve the movement of commodities in and through Iowa by road, rail, air, barge, and pipeline.
Sam Hiscocks from the Systems Planning Bureau is leading the plan update. He said, “This type of focused planning effort is beneficial to the overall state transportation plan. In addition, each state is required to have a five-year freight plan to qualify for National Highway Freight Program funding. Those funds are critical to a smaller state like Iowa as we continue to focus on stewardship of our current system, making it function as efficiently as possible.”
As the initial plan did, the updated freight plan relies on a dedicated group from the Iowa DOT, regional and local transportation agencies, and industry leaders to identify freight trends and develop strategies to address emerging concerns.
To accomplish the update, an inventory and analysis of the current condition of Iowa’s multimodal freight corridors will be completed. Hiscocks said, “One key piece of the freight plan is to identify bottlenecks. These areas in our transportation system can temporarily hold up shipments, costing Iowa businesses time and money. With the 2017 plan in place, we were able to use federal funds to address these bottlenecks in some key locations, including the Council Bluffs Interstate System, the interchange of Interstates 80 and 380, and the I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities. The same process will be part of this update.”
The improvements made to these bottleneck areas not only benefit local economies – the free-flowing movement of goods improves the economic situation of Iowa, the Midwest and, ultimately, the United States.
Pedersen summed up the planning efforts, saying, “Iowa’s transportation system is already one of the most reliable in the country. Through quality analysis and collaboration with all levels of government and our industry partners, these plans will help guide our transportation system into the future.”