Depending on who you listen to in Clinton, the future economic viability of the town and region hangs on certain road and highway improvement projects. There’s a list of 19, but the ones at the top include the Liberty Square redevelopment project, 19th Avenue North expansion and, of course, four-lane development of U.S. 30 from Rock Falls, Ill., to Ames.

Depending on who you listen to at the Iowa Department of Transportation, the outlook for those projects is anywhere from bleak to not-so-bleak with the occasional dash of optimism thrown in for good measure.

Iowa Department of Transportation Director Nancy Richardson was the featured speaker at the Iowa/Illinois Highway Partnership meeting last week. She made no promises about the future of U.S. 30 due to the state budget, but did express pleasure at the growing, prioritized project list that shows Clinton leaders have a plan for the future, something noticeably absent less than a decade ago.

But when Thom Hart, a member of the DOT Commission and a Davenport resident, was in town in April, he said “To expect (U.S.) 30 to be four-laned in the next decade, or even two, is completely unrealistic.”

Maybe Richardson is by nature more optimistic than Hart, or maybe she is more inclined to make friends in the early part of her tenure. Either way, the message both brought is founded in the same organizational philosophy, maintaining existing infrastructure as opposed to building new.

Hart said “Philosophically there has been a huge shift in the commission in the last few years to taking care of what we have, as opposed to building new.” Richardson said the focus is on stewardship and not new projects.

In their eyes, something like Liberty Square is more than stewardship. When looking at the scope of the project — significant property acquisition and demolition between South 4th and 14th streets and construction of two three-lane one-way roads, Camanche and Liberty avenues, while opening up the enlarged median for commercial or light industrial development — is certainly a much bigger task than filling a few potholes.

However, focusing on maintenance in spite of growth will pretty much stop growth altogether, and how many people consider that a viable plan for the future?

The DOT would be well-served to help cities and counties pressure lawmakers into finding a new way to fund road projects. As construction costs go up, the gas tax stays flat and therefore the DOT is forced to do more with less every year. At this rate, even maintenance will be too big a burden if it isn’t already.

But to end on a positive note, w return to Richardson, who was highly complimentary of the Clinton, Camanche and Fulton, Ill., area and the people who strive to one day see the region prosper.

“I’ve got to tell you — the sense of excitement and energy compared to that of a few years ago, it’s pretty amazing,” she said, according to our reporter. “To me what has occurred in the past decade is phenomenal. Other cities are aspiring to be like Clinton.”

She said many communities are fighting to get projects to do. Not only does this area have them, but there are so many that prioritization is key.

“That doesn’t just happen,” she said, adding local cities have successfully moved out of survival mode and have grown to become flourishing communities. “You need to pat yourselves on the back.”

That sounds like a message of hope and accomplishment. There are many hills to climb, but clearly the journey is headed in the right direction.

This Week's Circulars