Map of Saints Route

The Avenue of the Saints, covering 536 miles from St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis, Mo., was just a dream when it was proposed to Congress 20 years ago by Iowa community leaders. But now the Iowa section covering 268 miles past Hanlontown, Clear Lake, Mason City, Nora Springs, Rudd, Floyd, Charles City, Nashua, Plainfield, Waverly, Janesville, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Evansdale, Elk Run Heights, Raymond, Gilbertville, Brandon, Urbana, Center Point, Robins, Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids, Shueyville, North Liberty, Coralville, Iowa City, Hills, Riverside, Crawfordsville, Olds, Mount Pleasant, and Donnellson — has become a reality. It's one of the biggest road construction projects in state history costing approximately $541 million, with more than 80 percent of the monies coming from federal sources.

The Avenue of the Saints corridor is estimated to be the home of nearly 7 million people and 250,000 businesses and will help create new economic development opportunities for businesses and consumers alike, every inch of the way.

The push for the Avenue of the Saints began about 1985 with a lobbying effort by southeast Iowa community leaders, who ultimately developed a broader coalition. One of the factors behind their campaign was to provide a better transportation network for Mount Pleasant's huge Wal-Mart distribution center. The company now employs 1,200 people and handles an estimated 3,500 trucks per week that serve Wal-Mart retail stores in several states.

Avenue of the Saints logo

The "Avenue of the Saints" nickname was coined by the late Ernie Hayes, a Mount Pleasant businessman, along with New Hampton banker Robert Rigler and Warren Dunham, former director of the Iowa Department of Transportation. They were seeking a catchy name to draw attention to the project in Washington, D.C.

Several politicians endorsed the Avenue of the Saints concept, including Mount Pleasant mayor (and future Iowa governor) Tom Vilsack, Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin of Iowa, Congressmen David Nagle, Fred Grandy and Leach of Iowa, and Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri.

The fiscal year 1989 federal Transportation Appropriation Act gave this visionary project its “financial” footing with a $400,000 appropriation to study the feasibility and necessity of constructing a four-lane highway from St. Louis to St. Paul.

In December 1988 a project steering committee was organized to direct and manage the study. The committee included representatives from the Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota departments of transportation. Representatives from the Illinois and Wisconsin transportation departments and the Federal Highway Administration assisted with the study. The Iowa Department of Transportation served as the lead agency for the study.

In March 1989 the committee selected the consulting firm of Wilbur Smith and Associates of Columbia, South Carolina, to conduct the study that addressed: national, regional and state economic development impacts; funding feasibility; status of existing highway routes; traffic demand; and environmental impacts.

In March 1990 the study was completed and transmitted to the Federal Highway Administration. Four possible routes for the Avenue of the Saints were considered. Two of the rejected routes would have followed U.S. Highway 52 and U.S. Highway 63 from St. Paul through Rochester, Minnesota, to Waterloo, Iowa. Another rejected route would have followed U.S. 61 from St. Paul through La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Dubuque, Iowa, to Davenport, Iowa, and U.S. 67 from Davenport to St. Louis.

On May 15, 1990, the FHWA transmitted a report to Congress endorsing the steering committee's recommendation for the route that followed Interstate 35 from St. Paul to a point south of Clear Lake, Iowa; U.S. Highway 18 to Charles City, Iowa; U.S. Highway 218 to Cedar Falls, Iowa; Iowa Highway 58 and U.S. 20 around Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa; Interstate 380 from Waterloo through Cedar Rapids to Interstate 80 near Coralville,

Iowa; U.S. 218 to Donnellson, Iowa; Iowa 394 and Missouri Highway B to Wayland, Missouri; and U.S. 61 and Interstate 64 from Wayland to St. Louis.

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) made the Avenue of the Saints an official "high-priority corridor" and provided a total of $188 million through fiscal year 1997 in federal funding for projects in the corridor in the states of Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota. In addition, ISTEA provided $14.8 million for the construction of the Mason City bypass. The bypass was a key segment of the designated route.

In 1991 the Iowa DOT installed, and unveiled in special ceremonies hosted by former Governor Terry Branstad, “Avenue of the Saints” highway signs along the route that acknowledged the national designation of the corridor.

About 140 miles of the Saints highway follows previously built four-lane corridors in Iowa, including Interstate 380 and a 27-mile stretch of Interstate 35 in northern Iowa. Another 128 miles of the Iowa route includes sections where a two-lane highway has been widened to four lanes, or where four new lanes have been constructed on a new alignment. Some of the new stretches have been built as an expressway, meaning there are at-grade intersections, particularly in rural areas, instead of fully controlled interchanges.

Construction on the Saints highway in Iowa began in the early 1990s with sections opening intermittently in the years since. In 1996 the Iowa Transportation Commission designed the Avenue of the Saints corridor as a “High Priority” corridor. In doing so, the commission placed an emphasis on improving and completing a four-lane highway in this corridor.

Listed below are some of the key completion dates (north to south in Iowa ):

  • I-35 from the Minnesota state line south to the Iowa 9 interchange – Dec. 12, 1972
  • I-35 from the Iowa 9 interchange south to the U.S. 18 interchange – Aug. 7, 1971
  • U.S. 18 from the I-35 interchange east then southeast to the end of the Charles City bypass, including the Mason City bypass that opened Dec. 5, 1999 and Charles City bypass in 2000 – 1999 through 2000
  • U.S. 218 from south of the Charles City bypass to north of Nashua – Nov. 6, 2003
  • U.S. 218 from just north of Nashua southerly to a point south of Nashua, including the Nashua bypass – Sept. 3, 2003
  • U.S. 218 from south of Nashua in Chickasaw County southerly to a point north of Plainfield in Bremer County – Nov. 14, 2003
  • U.S. 218 from north of Plainfield southerly to a point south of Plainfield, including the Plainfield bypass – Nov. 8, 2002
  • U.S. 218 from south of Plainfield southerly to a point north of Waverly – July 19, 2002
  • U.S. 218 from north of Waverly to south of Waverly, including the Waverly bypass – 1999
  • U.S. 218 from Waverly south to Iowa 57 junction in Cedar Falls – 1994
    Iowa 27/58 south to U.S. 20 – 1993, 1994, and the last section opened in November 1995
  • U.S. 20 from the Iowa 58/27 interchange east to the U.S. 218/I-380 interchange – 1985 (widened to four-lane facility)
  • I-380 from the U.S. 20 interchange southeasterly to the Black Hawk/Buchanan county line - 1985
  • I-380 from the Black Hawk/Buchanan county line to the Buchanan /Benton county line - 1984
  • I-380 through Benton County - 1984
  • I-380 Benton/Linn county line to Glass Road- 1983
  • I-380 from Glass Road to north of the 8th Street NE interchange – Dec. 4. 1981
  • I-380 From the 8th Street NE interchange to the 1st Avenue West Interchange – June 11, 1979
  • I-380 from the 1st Avenue West interchange to the U.S. 30 interchange – June 25, 1976
  • I-380 from the U.S. 30 interchange to former Iowa 84/Johnson County F-12 interchange – June 25, 1976
  • I-380 from the former Iowa 84/Johnson County F-12 interchange, just south of Cedar Rapids, south to I-80 – Sept. 19, 1973
  • U.S. 218 south from I-80 interchange to Iowa 22 junction near Riverside - 1982
  • U.S. 218 from Iowa 22 junction near Riverside southerly 13.7 miles to just north of Ainsworth – 1995
  • U.S. 218 from just north of Ainsworth southerly 14.29 miles to just south of Olds – 1998-1999
  • U.S. 218 from just south of Olds southerly 5.21 miles to just north of Mount Pleasant – 2000
  • U.S. 218 from just north of Mount Pleasant southerly 5.25 miles to south of Mount Pleasant, including the Mount Pleasant bypass – Partially opened Dec. 19, 2001, and completely open Aug. 1, 2002
  • US 218 near Mt. Pleasant
    U.S. 218 bridge near Mount Pleasant; employee and contractor appreciation ceremony Jan. 12, 2001
  • U.S. 218 from just south of Mount Pleasant southerly 10.49 miles to just south of Houghton/Iowa 16 junction – June 2005
  • U.S. 218 from just south of the Iowa 16 junction southerly 1.17 miles to just north of Donnellson – May 23, 2006
  • U.S. 218 from just north of Donnellson southerly 19.62 miles to the Missouri state line; includes the Donnellson and Argyle bypasses that opened Feb. 19, 2004 – 2005
  • Iowa 27/Missouri 27/Des Moines river bridge – December 8, 2004

Take Twenty Seven logo

In August 2001 the Iowa Department of Transportation gave the Avenue of the Saints its own highway number: Iowa 27. The number was added as an additional number to the existing routes; however, after the Donnellson bypass opened in 2004, Iowa 394 was decommissioned, and Iowa 27 is now a stand alone highway south of the split with U.S. 218.

As of 2004, the Avenue of the Saints was open to four lanes from St. Paul to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and from Canton, Missouri, to St. Louis. A two-mile segment around Donnellson, Iowa, was also open to four lanes.

On December 8, 2004, a new four-lane bridge across the Des Moines River opened; this replaced an existing toll bridge. A new four-lane road between the bridge and U.S. 61 south of Wayland also opened that day. This road was numbered Missouri State Highway 27 to match Iowa 's number for the Avenue of the Saints.

In June 2005, a four-lane segment from the end of the Mount Pleasant bypass to the junction with Iowa Highway 16 east of Houghton was opened to four lanes of traffic. The segment of Iowa 27 between the split with U.S. 218 and the Des Moines River bridge opened to four lanes on August 25, 2005.

In the spring of 2006, Iowa completed work on the last stretch of the Avenue of the Saints, which extended 7 ½ miles and followed the U.S. 218 and Iowa 27 from Iowa 16 to Iowa 2 east of Donnellson in Lee County in southeast Iowa.

Steam Tractor image
2006 ceremony guests ride steam tractor
On June 16, 2006, the Iowa DOT held a ceremony on the grounds of the Mount Pleasant High School marking completion of the Avenue of the Saints in Iowa. Festivities included presentations by local vocalists, the Mount Pleasant High School band and VFW, American Legion and AMVETS Honor Guard of Mount Pleasant; remarks by Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Iowa Senators Grassley and Harkin,FHWA Iowa Division Administrator

Phil Barnes, Iowa DOT Director Nancy Richardson, and Iowa Avenue of the Saints Corridor Coalition Representative Donald Carmody; displays; giveaways; refreshments; and steam tractor rides. The event also served as the kick-off for a corridor-long Great Saints Weekend Adventure involving celebrations and activities sponsored by organizations and communities along the route.

Completition Celebration Photo
Ribbon Tearing June 16, 2006, in Mount Pleasant

- - Missouri Corridor Development - -

photo Photo credit: ©2008 Missouri Department of Transportation
In Missouri, the Avenue of the Saints consists of three primary segments. From south to north: U.S. 61/40 (I-64) from St. Louis (Lindbergh Blvd.) to Wentzville - 28 miles; U.S. 61 from Wentzville to just south of Wayland at the U.S. 61/Missouri 27 interchange - 127 miles; and Missouri 27 from the U.S. 61/Missouri 27 interchange south of Wayland to the Missouri/Iowa state line - 7 miles.

In 1993, an environmental impact study was started that examined the proposed highway corridor from Canton, Mo., to Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The contract with RUST Environment and Infrastructure Inc. (now Earth Tech) was signed July 21, 1993. After completing the required federal Environmental Impact Statement, a Record of Decision was signed June 23, 1999, allowing construction to proceed.

Several key milestones occurred during the building of the Avenue of the Saints through Missouri, including securing more than $5 million in Congressional earmarks over for the project by U.S. Senator Christopher S. "Kit" Bond and Congressman Kenny Hulshof. There were also many individuals who contributed to completion of the Avenue of the Saints in Missouri, including Tom Batenhorst, who served as MoDOT's transportation project manager. Batenhorst was responsible for managing all aspects of the project in that state up to construction.

The group that was instrumental in putting the Saints project on the path toward completion was the Students of Missouri Assisting Rural Transportation (SMART) from Canton High School. These students embarked on a journey of passion to finish the Avenue as a four-lane highway. Their attendance at the March 2000 Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission meeting in Jefferson City brought awareness to the importance of completing the corridor to reduce injuries and fatalities.

Commission Chairman Duane S. Michie would later recognize the students’ efforts in a letter contained in the program dedicating completion of the final segment of the route, he said, "Their amazing determination, unwavering enthusiasm and internal passion would be rewarded in November 2004 when
the voters of Missouri passed Amendment 3, which included construction funds to complete the Avenue of the Saints."

In October 2002, Missouri and Iowa broke ground to mark the beginning of construction of two new two-lane bridges that crossing the Des Moines River at St. Francisville, Mo. On December 4, 2004, the bridges were opened, connecting Iowa and Missouri. A four-lane road between the bridges and U.S. 61 south of Wayland also opened that day. This road was numbered Missouri State Highway 27 to match Iowa's state route number. Snowplows owned by the Missouri and Iowa departments of transportation led the first official motor vehicle crossing of the bridge. Employees from both agencies also buried a time capsule near the end of the bridge.
Des Moines River bridge photo
St. Francisville bridge opening ceremony December 4, 2004

In the fall of 2003, Missouri opened another section of the Avenue between Le Grange and Canton. The celebration was held at the city hall in La Grange. Then Governor Bob Holden and U.S. Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond were the keynote speakers at the event. The celebration included a three-mile fun run on the new highway prior to its opening. The community of Canton also hosted a barbecue near the County Market store.

In 2004 and 2005, Lewis County, Mo., was the site of the largest archeology dig ever required by Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) for a transportation project. Cultural Research Analysts was the consultant who performed the work. Discoveries included several 'bifaces,' commonly known as arrowheads, fire pits and many other interesting artifacts. Public tours were given of the site, and a special video made and distributed to dozens of schools throughout the county.

In 2006, Missouri Representative Brian Munzlinger sponsored legislation to name a section of U.S. 61 as SMART Memorial Highway. A road sign presentation was made during a special reception held in Canton, with several members of the SMART group in attendance.

SMART- Canton High School photo Corey Moon, SMART kid at Canton, Missouri opening
In August 2007, MoDOT celebrated with Clark and Lewis counties when six miles of the Avenue were completed through their area. The ceremony began at Mound Park in Clark County, and a caravan of vehicles headed south on the unopened section to Canton, where the rest of the ceremony was held. Corey Moon, the youngest member of SMART, was a featured speaker, along with many other dignitaries who had been part of the success in completing the corridor, including Don Carmody who was a
Don Carmody and Tom Boland photo
Former Iowa Commissioner Don Carmody and Missouri Commissioner Tom Boland, Canton, Mo., 2007

commissioner for the Iowa Transportation Commission at the time, and former Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Tom Boland.

On July 25, 2008, the MoDOT opened the final four-lane segment of the Avenue of the Saints completed in that state. The approximate nine-mile segment extended from south of Wayland to the Lewis County line. The opening was marked with a celebration that included a formal ceremony and ribbon cutting.

The event was followed by a Saints caravan that made whistle stops in Le Grange, Palmyra, Hannibal, New London, Bowling Green, Tory, and Moscow Mills, Mo. During brief stops in each town, members of the community were presented with a replica of the sign designating them as "Saints" community, and placed on the community's city limit sign.
City of Moscow, Missouri
Photo credit: ©2008 Missouri Department of Transportation

- - Minnesota Corridor Development - -

The Avenue of the Saints through Minnesota travels Interstate 35, which was already constructed as a four-lane facility when the route was proposed.