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November 17, 2011 8:00 AM, EST

Iowa Reopens 3-Mile Stretch of I-680 After Summer Flooding Destroyed It

By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Nov. 14 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Iowa reopened a 3.1-mile section of Interstate 680 near the Nebraska state line earlier this month after a complete reconstruction of the road that took only 34 days.

Flooding from June to September “inundated the highway and destroyed the highway itself,” Dena Gray-Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation, told Transport Topics.

“At the peak of construction, [contractors] had 300 employees out there on the job,” Gray-Fisher said, adding that workers were on a 24-hour-per-day schedule during part of the project.

The highway near Omaha, Neb., carries about 17,300 vehicles per day, of which about 2,180 are trucks, state records show.

“Businesses come to a standstill when transportation systems do not work,” Victor Mendez, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, said at a Nov. 2 event reopening the highway, according to a statement provided by the agency. Joining him were Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino III and other officials.

All but $2 million of the $19 million cost of the I-680 project was eligible for emergency funding from FHWA, Gray-Fisher said.

The closing was a relatively minor disruption for the trucking industry because it is just a beltway loop for Interstate 80, Brenda Neville, president of the Iowa Motor Truck Association, told TT. But she is still glad that it is now open.

“I haven’t heard anything from trucking companies, good or bad,” she said.

Truckers in Iowa and surrounding states generally found detours while the highway was closed, Neville said.

“The trucking industry is nimble, so it’s not like the trucks are going to quit running. We’re just figuring out a way to get around it,” she said.

The Missouri River’s flooding throughout the summer, caused by excessive snow and rain, destroyed towns, infrastructure and landscapes from Montana to Missouri.

Iowa suffered damage to 77 miles of highway, 67 of which were on interstates, Gray-Fisher said.

“The powerful forces of the river did a lot of different things,” she said. One bridge across the river had much of the ground around it washed away, and workers had to fill it in to stabilize the bridge, she said.

As of Nov. 4, Iowa had only one mile of damaged highway left to repair, Gray-Fisher said. “It’s an amazing feat that it’s been accomplished so quickly,” she said.

The federal government’s time line for emergency funding necessitated the quick work, Gray-Fisher said. Projects are eligible only if they are completed within six months of the natural disaster, she said.

“We only had six months to do it, and [I-680] was underwater for four of them,” she said.

FHWA granted $2 million in “quick-release” funding to Iowa in July and will continue to make payments, the agency said.

To cut down on time and permitting, contractors rebuilt the I-680 section, which is between I-29 and the Missouri River north of Council Bluffs, on the same footprint of the road built in the 1960s, Gray-Fisher said. “That eliminated a lot of the effort as far as the environmental issues and things,” she said.