Under the Golden Dome, Too – August 30

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It is that time of year when school starts and farmers begin to prepare for the harvest. With that comes school buses and farm machinery on the move. As I travel the state and observe this, my thoughts turn to our infrastructure needs.

There is no doubt that quality, reliable, and safe infrastructure is a key element for Iowa’s economic growth and prosperity.  It is our vast network of roads that allows for the movement of goods and people on a daily basis.  A high quality transportation system is essential in serving the day-to-day needs of motorists across the state.  Iowans should have an assurance that our public infrastructure is dependable and trustworthy.  With summer vacation travel coming to an end, I thought now would be a good opportunity to have a discussion about the condition of our state’s roads and infrastructure.

Iowa’s public roadway system is comprised of over 114,000 miles of roadways with approximately 25,000 bridges.  Nationally, Iowa ranks fifth in the number of bridges and 13th in miles of roadway, yet the state ranks 30th in population and 23rd in land area.

We are fortunate to have an extensive roadway system throughout Iowa, which allows for individuals to enjoy our rolling hills and beautiful scenery, in addition to maintaining an efficient flow of commerce.  However, maintaining these roadways comes with a hefty price tag, and due to many factors such as aging infrastructure, decreased buying power, changing demands on the system (increased large vehicle travel) and severe weather (mainly floods), the cost of sustaining our vast network of roads is only expected to rise year to year.  At the same time, increased fuel efficiency and alternative fuel use is making it difficult to sustain the traditional revenue stream.

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), reports that much of Iowa’s public roadway system was built or modernized in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.  This means there is currently a wave of infrastructure needs that require significant updates and reinvestment due to a road’s limited lifecycle.  In fact, a 2006 study of the Road Use Tax Fund (RUTF)- the fund used to pay for our state’s infrastructure needs- projected a $27.7 billion shortfall in revenue to meet all current and future infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, with a funding shortfall of $200 million per year for our most critical needs.   With each passing year, we fall further and further behind in our obligation to maintaining our public roadways.

The evidence is clear that additional funding is needed to improve the safety of our roadways, but the source of revenue remains up for debate.  I realize a lot of Iowans have concerns about increasing our state’s fuel tax to pay for our infrastructure needs.  I also know the conditions of our roads are deteriorating.  We must figure out an ongoing, sustainable funding mechanism to meet the needs of our aging roads and bridges.

Alternatives to increasing the fuel tax that have recently been mentioned include, but are not limited to, earmarking a portion of our state’s sales tax revenue, raising the one-time registration fee for vehicles, or using surplus gambling revenue to fund our roadways.  The Governor has recently asked Paul Trombino, the Director of the DOT, and his team to review all options for possible transportation funding and report back to him with their recommendations.

I want to hear from you.  How do you think we should pay for the improvements needed for our roadways?  There is no doubt this will continue to be a topic of great discussion and I want to have your feedback.  Let me know your thoughts by contacting me at linda.upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or 515-281-4618.

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