Highway 30 expansion opens in Tama County

The Iowa Department of Transportation recently opened up a newly constructed four-lane road on Highway 30 in Tama County. The new road is wider, flatter and should allow those commuting a safer and quicker journey. -- Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

Travelers on Highway 30 in Tama County were able to enjoy a newly constructed four-lane highway east of Tama for the first time last week. The road opening marks a milestone in what has been a complex construction project by the Iowa Department of Transportation that began in 2017 with tree clearing and excavation. In total, nearly 5 million cubic yards of dirt was moved to make the project possible.

The newly opened section of highway spans 10 miles between N Avenue east of Tama and the Salt Creek bridge near Highway 21 and the Benton County line.

Although several miles of the new highway are open for public use, construction still continues on both ends of the road where the four-lane highway connects to the old four-lane highway near Tama and the road just before Highway 21. According to Iowa DOT officials, the remaining construction in Tama County is anticipated to conclude in August barring any setbacks.

Tama County Sheriff’s Office encouraged motorists to exercise caution while traveling through the new highway in a Facebook post, stating they had already given out traffic citations for speeding through the area.

Currently, the road presents a handful of new factors that regular commuters will need to get used to as the highway project progresses toward completion. The speed limit has increased through the area from 55 mph to 65 mph. The increase will allow for quicker travel, though more than 10 intersections still exist where vehicles could be entering and exiting directly onto Highway 30 from county roads.

Through the newly opened 10-mile stretch of Highway 30 in southeast Tama County, the speed limit has increased to 65 mph. The speed limit drops back down to 55 mph in Benton County through the remaining two-lane highway section that will undergo construction next. -- Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

Until the entire four-lane Highway 30 project is complete through Tama and Benton counties, those traveling between Tama and Cedar Rapids will see the speed limit change from 65 mph in Tama County to 55 mph through a portion of Benton County and back again to 65 mph from Highway 218 onward.

“It’s going to be quite a change in the pace of traffic in that area with the change in the speed limit,” Tama County Sheriff Dennis Kucera said. “I think ultimately it’s a good thing for Tama County. It should make the roadway safer, as long as people are paying attention to what the posted speed limits are.”

Kucera said the Tama County Sheriff’s Office receives the first call for driver complaints or accidents on Highway 30 and said his office will continue to do their job to respond to calls for service and to keep the roadways in Tama County safe.

Those traveling the new highway will immediately notice a wider and flatter road that should allow for safer travel. The area had long been a been difficult and dangerous stretch for motorists, particularly at night and during wet and snowy weather. The elimination of head-to-head traffic on a narrow road with several hills is also a marked improvement.

Less than two months ago, a fatal crash occurred between two vehicles on the highway east of Tama at the intersection of Highway 30 and County Road E66.

A view of the rolling hills that mark the territory in southeast Tama County known by many residents as the Bohemie Alps. -- Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

The driver that was killed attempted to turn westbound onto Highway 30 and missed a stop sign before colliding with another vehicle headed eastbound.

DOT officials said the plan is to close off the E66 and Highway 30 intersection and instead route traffic through R Avenue a short distance further to the east. Motorists will be able to make a right angle turn through the R Avenue intersection and then be able to link back up with E66 to make connections to the towns of Chelsea and Belle Plaine. The R Avenue intersection will also include a turning lane to help motorists coming off Highway 30 exit safely.

Original plans by the Iowa DOT were to complete the 27-mile Highway 30 expansion project from Tama to Highway 218 in Benton County by 2024. However with wet weather setbacks in 2018 and 2019, the full project completion may be pushed back to 2025.

DOT plans are to conduct bid letting in the fall of 2021 for the next phase of the Highway 30 project. The upcoming phase will include construction of the interchange at Highway 30 and Highway 21 in Benton County as well as the removal of the old Highway 30.

Once that phase is complete, the next phase will be construction for the remaining four-lane expansion in Benton County up to the existing four-lane road at the Highway 218 interchange.

A radar speed sign sits along Highway 30 near the Highway 30 interchange headed into Tama as construction continues to finish the connection between the new four-lane highway east of Tama and the older four-lane bypass that was opened in 2010 -- Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

A view pointed east on Highway 30 looking down the newly constructed highway that was opened to motorists on June 3. Manatt's Inc. of Brooklyn, Iowa was the contractor for the project and has had a portable concrete plant (to the left in the distance) installed near the E66 intersection for over a year as work on the highway has progressed. -- Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

In opening the new four-lane highway, the Iowa DOT today closed the old two-lane road that remains directly south of the new highway. County secondary road intersections, driveways and field entrances remain accessible however. -- Darvin Graham/News Chronicle