116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa transportation officials are expecting a fairly status-quo highway improvement program over the next five-year planning period, with about $3.6 billion targeted toward projects aimed at enhancing safety and modernizing and maintaining Iowa’s current network of roadways.
Members of the state Transportation Commission are slated to vote Tuesday on the draft plan presented to them Monday by Iowa Department of Transportation staff.
The state’s 127-page proposed transportation plan for fiscal 2022-26 covers investments in aviation, public transit, railroads, trails, rivers and highways with a $3.6 billion price tag that Stuart Anderson, director of Iowa DOT’s planning, programming and modal division, called “kind of a mind-boggling number.”
Assuming federal funding continues at current levels, state officials have earmarked more than $2.8 billion for modernization of Iowa’s existing highway system over the next five fiscal years and for enhanced highway safety features that focus on Iowa’s initiative to lower traffic fatalities below 300 deaths annually.
Included in the new five-year transportation plan is more than $1.2 billion in investments to upgrade Iowa’s state-owned bridges. According to Iowa DOT officials, the number of poor bridges on the state highway system was reduced from 256 in 2006 to 35 in 2020, but many bridges are due for repair or replacement so ongoing upgrades remain a priority.
Maintaining Iowa’ interstate network also remains a priority with significant investments planned for six-lane improvements on Interstate 35 in Polk and Story counties and Interstate 80 in Dallas and Johnson counties; Mississippi River bridge replacements on Interstate 74 in Bettendorf and I-80 in LeClaire; Interstate 380/80 interchange reconstruction near Iowa City and I-380/Tower Terrace interchange construction in Hiawatha; and I-80 reconstruction at Madison Avenue in Council Bluffs.
New to the program is continuing an I-380 pavement rehabilitation and widening effort from north of Forevergreen Road to north of Penn Street in the North Liberty area; “resiliency” work on Iowa Highway 2 from Horse Creek to Interstate 29 in Fremont County; and super-two, or wider lane, improvements on U.S. 18 in Kossuth/Hancock counties, U.S. 30 in Cedar County and U.S. 63 in Tama County.
Iowa DOT officials say the state’s transportation investments over the past year and in the coming years play a critical role in helping stabilize, recover and transition to a growing economy as the nation works through a public-health pandemic with “unprecedented financial challenges.”
“Travel on Iowa’s public roadways dropped significantly, thus reducing state fuel tax revenue,” members of the Transportation Commission said in a letter discussing pandemic impacts. “Now, at this point in 2021, we are starting to see — to varying degrees — our transportation system getting closer to pre-pandemic levels of usage.”
The diversity of Iowa’s road-use tax fund — which combines gas taxes, vehicle registrations and license fees and use taxes on new and used vehicle sales — along with three separate federal COVID-19 relief packages — enabled Iowa’s transportation investments to “remain at healthy levels and, in some cases, at even higher levels than anticipated,” according to the letter.
Federal relief provided critical funding for public transit, aviation and various transportation services, with supplemental COVID-19 money totaling $121.9 million. At the same time, commissioners warned that the federal authorization for the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act expires Sept. 30. “Therefore, there is significant uncertainty about federal funding after this date. However, we are hopeful that Congress will act to reauthorize funding and use that as an opportunity to increase investments in infrastructure.”
In their letter, commissioners said Federal Highway Trust Fund revenue currently would not cover funding levels anticipated throughout the state’s five-year plan.
“In the unlikely event this is not addressed by Congress, drastic cuts to the federal highway program are possible. If this occurs, we will have to make significant changes to the program,” with the potential to reduce funding for highway and bridge projects by about $500 million in the plan.
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