A major study of Interstate 80 through rural Iowa is due to be completed in May, according to the state Department of Transportation, and the public will get a chance to weigh in on it early next year.

The DOT has been studying the state's most-traveled east-west road for more than a year, with an eye toward figuring out what improvements will have to be made to accommodate the expectation of growing traffic volumes.

"I'd say we're real close to the end of it," said Brad Hofer, assistant director of the DOT's Office of Location and Environment, which was in charge of the study.

Officials believe traffic along I-80 will grow significantly by 2040. In Cedar County, near West Branch, for example, the DOT predicts that daily traffic along I-80 will grow from about 34,000 vehicles a day to 74,000 by 2040, with truck traffic more than doubling.

In western Iowa, the projected growth is more modest.

Still, the idea for the study was to evaluate existing conditions, long- and short-term issues and strategies to improve the route.

So far, planners have looked at the possibility of expanding U.S. 30 and U.S. 34, which run parallel to I-80, along with whether to segregate truck traffic. “We found that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to do that,” Hofer said.

“While beneficial to operations and safety, truck-only lanes are cost prohibitive with the current financial constraints of the Iowa DOT,” the agency said in a technical memo last July.

It added that expanding to six lanes would bring many of the same benefits. The report did not recommend lane restrictions or speed restrictions, but it said they could be pursued in the future.

As for expanding U.S. 30 and U.S. 34, the DOT found that would not bring sufficient benefits. The study also examined the kind of changes that might come from the trend toward automated driving.

The DOT still has work to do. It still hasn’t detailed its findings on financing improvements with tolls. That would be a controversial step, and one that would require legislation.

“We considered it our responsibility to at least look at it,” Hofer said.

Taking such a step would mean some operational and safety benefits, in that improvements could be done more quickly. But it also would be a change to how the state traditionally funds road improvements. That report is due soon.

Before the study is completed, a final public input session will be scheduled. That will likely occur in April in Des Moines. However, Hofer said there would be a chance to see the presentation online and make comments that way.

The report will eventually make its way to the state transportation commission, which approves projects.

So far, Hofer said, there have been about 3,500 to 4,000 comments submitted as part of the study.

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