FREEPORT — Mayor Jim Gitz’s administration is urging political leaders from northern Illinois to the nation’s capital to expand U.S. 20 to four lanes between Freeport and Galena to boost economic development and improve traffic safety.
The City Council last month passed a resolution urging Gov. Pat Quinn, state legislators, the state’s congressional delegation and the U.S Department of Transportation to allocate funding and expedite the project, citing it as “a project of national significance.”

Gitz has forwarded the resolution to U.S. Rep Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, who visited Rockford, Galena and other northwest Illinois communities last summer and fall to discuss revival of the long dormant plan to widen U.S. 20 between Freeport and Galena.

“Not only did we present the resolution to Congresswoman Bustos, but we will be contacting each and every city, not only in Illinois, but along the Iowa corridor asking for a joint effort on the surface transportation plan in Congress,” Gitz said.

An alignment for the proposed highway expansion and an environmental study were completed a decade ago, but federal funding remains elusive. Widening U.S. 20 along the 43-mile stretch between Freeport and Galena is estimated to cost more than $1 billion.

Gitz said he favors maintaining the picturesque two-lane highway between Freeport and Galena and creating a new four-lane alignment north of the present highway.

“This is included in the state’s five-year (capital construction) plan, but a specific dollar commitment year by year is not included,” Gitz said. “I think that the important part here is to start including U.S. 20 four-lane construction in the state of Illinois plan, not just simply piecemealing the present highway.”

Supporters say widening the two-lane highway from Freeport to Galena could spur development by allowing easier transport of goods and services throughout the Midwest. In turn, cities along U.S. 20 would benefit from economic development.

“This about a highway network that is increasingly handling heavy traffic from a four-lane network west of Dubuque, Iowa, but it hits a snag in Illinois and that doesn’t make any sense at all,” Gitz said.

“We have now an anomaly of very big trucks which you normally see on the interstates crawling over this antiquated highway,” he said. “When what we should have is a clean, crisp highway that helps the entire Midwest, not just simply this section of the state.”

Bustos is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees surface transportation legislation.

“US 20 is something that the congresswoman is hopeful that the committee will begin considering,” said Bustos spokesman Colin Milligan. “She has talked to some of the neighboring members of Congress from Wisconsin and Iowa about the importance of the project and anything that she can do to move the project forward she will do.”

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