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Powers behind the Avenue of the Saints

Ernie Hayes and the Avenue of the Saints
Written by Martha Hayes (niece of Ernest Alonzo Hayes)

Ernie Hayes
E.A. “Ernie” Hayes

“The federal government, at the urging of an 84-year-old retired insurance man from a small Iowa town, will study the feasibility of a four-lane limited access highway between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The idea for the highway, dubbed the ‘Avenue of the Saints' has been promoted for two decades by Ernest Hayes of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, population 8,500… Wayne Muri (Chief engineer for the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department) said, ‘The power behind the drive to get the highway built was Hayes.” This quote appeared in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Dec. 1, 1998, after Hayes had made a presentation in Hannibal, Missouri.

Hayes may have been the most vocal or persistent or may have written more letters about the highway than many others, but a number of supporters had worked on the project throughout the years.

Involvement by Others
Robert Rigler, a banker in New Hampton and a former chairman of the Iowa Transportation Commission, joined E.A. as co-chair of the Avenue of the Saints Steering Committee sometime in 1988 or 1989. When speaking at the memorial celebration after Hayes' death in late June 1990, Rigler mentioned that he probably had over 150 letters from Ernie on the subject of this four-lane highway. Other names that appear in the correspondence between Rigler and Hayes are Ian MacGillivray, now retired from the Iowa Department of Transportation, and Warren Dunham, a former DOT director. It was Dunham and his staff who developed the actual logo.

Highway Name
The name (Avenue of the Saints) first appeared on stationery in 1987. Soon afterwards lapel pins, T-shirts, and ball caps had been manufactured and were given out to loyal supporters and those who needed to be convinced of the logic of this “holy highway.” That was one of the other names suggested for the marketing of this idea. In late 1985, Hayes calls it the “Central Iowa Expressway Connecting Minneapolis and St. Louis.”

One of the changes made early on was to make the northern terminus of the road St. Paul instead of Minneapolis. Then, as one person noted, “It could be called the Intersaint Interstate.” Other suggestions mentioned where the “ Holy Highway ” and “ Celestial Highway.” The “Avenue of the Saints” described the route most accurately and was used from 1987 forward.

The Crusade
Many Iowans joined Hayes in his 20- or 25-year crusade to have a major highway running north and south in eastern Iowa and continued to do so after his death. One paper found in Hayes' correspondence was a list of Iowa and Missouri counties through which the highway would go and those counties that would be just adjacent to the “Avenue of the Saints” on either side. Both Missouri and Minnesota have developed or are working to complete their parts of the road.

In all three states, many speeches were made and letters and articles were written to convince city, county, state, and federal governments of the benefits of this road. In December 1991, the Avenue of the Saints' signs were unveiled in various Iowa towns along the way to show the route. In December 2004, a major milestone took place with the opening of the new bridge in St. Francisville, Missouri.

Robert R. Rigler, former Iowa Transportation Commission Chair

Robert Rigler

Robert Rigler, a Republican from New Hampton, served 16 years in the Iowa Senate, nearly 16 years as a member and chairman of the Iowa Transportation Commission, and another three as state banking superintendent. Rigler also served as the chairman of the board of Security State Bank in New Hampton.

After serving in the state Senate, Gov. Robert D. Ray appointed Rigler to what was then the Highway Commission in 1971, later known as the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission. When the Iowa DOT was created in 1974, Rigler was the commission's first chairman. He served through 1986.

Rigler was best known in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area for chairing the commission during the massive overhaul of the metro highway system in the 1980s and early '90s conceived by former Waterloo Mayor Leo Rooff. He also served on the commission during the construction of Interstate 380 from Iowa City north through Cedar Rapids to Waterloo.

In a 2005 article published in the Waterloo Courier, Rigler said, "It's been an important corridor, (Mayor) Ernie Hayes from Mount Pleasant and I pushed what we named 'The Avenue of the Saints,'" a proposed network of four-lane highways between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn.