116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Coming off the second-largest highway program in its history and looking ahead to additional funding from the federal bipartisan infrastructure package, Iowa Department of Transportation officials are tamping down expectations.
“Iowa had a great year,” Iowa DOT Director Scott Marler told the House Transportation Committee last week. The department undertook 839 projects totaling $1.28 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021.
Among the highlights, he said, were the completion of the Interstate 74 Mississippi River bridge at the Quad Cities, the Interstate 29/Interstate 80 dual divided interstate at Council Bluffs and reconstruction on Highway 57 at Cedar Falls.
With state and federal funding increases, he and Transportation Development Division Director Stuart Anderson told legislators they expect the state’s five-year highway program to grow from $3.6 billion to about $4 billion for construction and right-of-way acquisition.
“We’re grateful for the additional funding,” Marler said, but explained that Iowa’s share of the $550 billion in new money — about half going to transportation — in the bipartisan infrastructure package won’t fix all of the state’s needs.
“Expectations have been very high, so we need to temper that because the needs far outpace the funding,” Marler said.
There’s still some uncertainty about the funding because the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution through mid-February, he said. However, Iowa DOT leaders expect federal highway funds to be between $150 and $200 million of new money over five years.
The numbers can be a bit confusing, Anderson said, explaining that the $3.4 billion advised by the White House for Iowa includes already existing federal transportation funding.
“The infrastructure bill has been discussed a lot as if it's kind of a one-off bill providing funding new funding for infrastructure,” he said. While that’s true for some programs, “on the highway side, the infrastructure bill really is the new five-year highway authorization bill” succeeding previous highway transportation appropriations. “The dollar amounts aren't all brand-new money. It certainly is some funding increases, but all the totals really reflect kind of existing programs in funding levels plus some additional resources.”
Despite the uncertainty about fiscal 2022 funding, Anderson said the Transportation Commission wanted to plug the new dollars into its planning as quickly as possible by prioritizing pavement and safety needs. Commissioners added nearly $50 million for 15 pavement projects and $5 million for four safety projects on high-volume corridors. It also made targeted investments where there are capacity issues, such as adding funds for improvements to expand Interstate 380 working north from the I-80/380 interchange just west of Iowa City, Anderson said.
However, there are limits to what the public should expect the department and commission to be able to do with the additional federal infrastructure funds, the Iowa DOT leaders said.
“It's significant, very important, but it will not allow the commission to address all the needs that they hear from constituents as they tour the state every summer,” Anderson said.
In addition, the Iowa DOT is not immune to the same supply chain issues affecting nearly every sector of the economy and rising materials costs, he said. “We are seeing that in some of our (bid) lettings that we've been doing here this winter,” Anderson said.
Higher costs for labor and material forced the commission to reschedule some projects, he said, but it did not remove any from the five-year program.
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