By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
FAIRFIELD, Iowa -- Gov. Chet Culver called on Congress to pass a nationwide infrastructure program as he helped celebrate the completion of the Des Moines-to-Burlington corridor on Wednesday.
Culver and other dignitaries gathered to cut the ribbon opening the U.S. 34 bypass at Fairfield, the final link in the three-highway, four-lane corridor linking the two cities.
Culver called for a "state and federal partnership" to repair and rebuild the nation's aging transportation network. Culver said it will create jobs during a time of economic turmoil and benefit the economy with a safe and efficient highway system.
"One of the proven ways to create good jobs is by investing in our infrastructure," Culver said.
The 165-mile, $476-million corridor is the last of the six "high priority corridors" identified for four-lane conversion by the Iowa Transportation Commission in 1996. Nancy Richardson, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the priority corridors cost $1.8 billion and took 12 years to complete.
"These and future transportation investments help attract businesses, create and retain jobs, make travel easier and bring added prosperity to Iowa," Richardson said.
Thomas A. Oakley, a regional transportation supporter from Quincy, Ill., attended the opening as a member of the Tri-State Development Summit. He said the Des Moines to Burlington corridor is an important piece of the region's transportation network.
There are 35 counties in the Summit region -- eight in Iowa, 14 in Illinois and 13 in Missouri -- that work cooperatively on issues such as transportation, river issues and agriculture.
U.S. 34 improvements in Iowa and in Illinois have been a Summit priority, Oakley said. A four-lane corridor now exists all the way from Des Moines to Peoria, except for 22 miles of U.S. 34 in Illinois between Gulfport and Monmouth.
"There have been three major highway openings in the Tri-State Summit region since July. We opened the Avenue of the Saints during the summer. We opened Ill. 336 (on Oct. 29) and now this one on U.S. 34," Oakley said.
Pat Poepping, president of Poepping Stone Bach of Quincy and a member of the Summit Steering Committee, attended the ceremony and said the next priority will be completion of the four-lane U.S. 34 segment to Monmouth.
"The speakers said Illinois has the next project to really complete this corridor," Poepping said.
Drivers along the Des Moines-Burlington corridor will have much faster transport because of the divided highway and because of 14 bypasses that take the highway around cities, Poepping said.
The Fairfield bypass is scheduled to open within days, but was not ready for traffic by the time of the ribbon-cutting.
Iowa officials say the Des Moines-to-Burlington corridor has been a priority because of the amount of freight and crops shipped through that area and because it fits into a national highway network.