Construction is accelerating on a $2 billion interstate highway project, the largest ever undertaken by the Iowa Department of Transportation, in hopes of streamlining traffic flow through Council Bluffs and keeping up with growing demand.

The interstate system in Council Bluffs was built largely in the 1960s. It carries 75,000 vehicles a day but was designed for half that amount. By 2030, traffic is estimated to climb to more than 120,000 vehicles a day, the DOT estimates.

"It's kind of reached its life expectancy both in capacity and structurally," said Troy Jerman, DOT district engineer for southwest Iowa.

A study by the city and a regional planning group on the issue of rebuilding the interstate system around the city concluded in 1999 that many of the interstate's features were outdated, failed to meet current design standards and couldn't handle the traffic load. The DOT then began working on the comprehensive project that is expected to carry a final price of $2 billion, making it the DOT's single largest project ever.

Council Bluffs and the adjacent Omaha area serve as a major highway transportation hub for the Midwest.

Interstate 80 joins with Interstate 29 west of Council Bluffs, and the two run together for about 3 ½ miles through town until they split again. The interstate highways carry car traffic from a growing population and also must meet increasing demand from freight haulers that send thousands of semitrailers a day through the area.

The work, planned in phases, includes rebuilding 14 interchanges, relocating railroads, and adding traffic lanes on Interstates 80 and 29.

Bridges and ramps are under construction now on the west interchanges, and grading work is underway for the Interstate 29 corridor. In the spring more contractors will be hired for additional portions of the project and work will pick up noticeably, Jerman said.

Jerman said the work going on now is not interfering with traffic. But the DOT anticipates a greater impact as the project continues.

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