The Blair South Bypass project is one step closer to reality.
On Thursday afternoon, the City of Blair received notification from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) it had been awarded a $7.56 million BUILD grant for the project. This was the third time the city had applied for the grant.
“The old third time's the charm,” Blair Public Works Director Al Schoemaker said.
The project will construct a new connection between U.S. Highway 30 and U.S. Highway 75. The south bypass road will be about one mile, with three lanes to provide for a passing lane on the uphill sections of the road. A bicycle and pedestrian trail will also run alongside the road.
The road would begin at South Highway 30 and Hollow Road, just north of Walmart, and stretch to the intersection of County Road P35 and U.S. Highway 75.
BUILD grants are competitive grants used for the planning and construction of surface transportation projects that are of local or regional significance. Without the grant, the cost to the local community would have been hefty.
“What this does is it allows it to move forward,” City Administrator Rod Storm said.
The final design of the project is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Schoemaker said. The right-of-way acquisition phase is expected in the spring. A dirt contract could be awarded in late 2021 with construction to begin in 2022. The road could be open for traffic in 2023.
The project, which will eventually include a north bypass, is expected to alleviate truck traffic in the downtown area “to ultimately provide the safety for the community,” Storm said.
Plans for a bypass date back to the late 1990s when truck traffic was mostly due to cross-country travelers. Now, many of the trucks are headed to the Blair biocampus.
“It's always been the desire to get that bypass built to be able to keep trucks as much as possible out of the downtown area,” Storm said. “Are you ever going to be able to remove all trucks? No. You will always have Highway 91 coming in from the west and you can't do anything with that traffic. If it's going east, it's going right down through the heart of the community. There's no feasible way to change that.
“This phase of the bypass will go a long way to trying to keep trucks out of the downtown area,” Storm added.
After years of work, Storm said it is “rewarding” to see the project become viable.
“I think it's a real tribute to Mayor Hansen, the council members, all previous council members and mayors that we keep pushing, we keep tracking to make this happen and now we just have to keep the foot on the pedal to make something happen on the north part of the community,” he said.
Sen. Deb Fischer and other Washington, D.C., leadership has been instrumental in seeing this project forward as well, Schoemaker added.
“Senator Fischer's office was very influential in getting this through. Senator Sasses and Congressman Fortenberry also provided great support of our project all along. It's because of them that we're where we are able to talk about today.”
Fischer, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and chairman of the Transportation and Safety subcommittee, released the following statement after the announcement of the grant.
“It was a pleasure working with DoT to deliver this important infrastructure grant to the community of Blair,” she said. “The Blair South Bypass is a vital project to address the city’s congestion and traffic safety. This has been a priority of mine, too, which is why I wrote in support of Blair’s application. The new bypass will serve as a much needed connection for regional traffic, improve safety, and foster continued economic development in the area.”