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Iowa agencies manage $2.2B in infrastructure aid
It has been a year since Congress passed $1 trillion law
Caleb McCullough, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Nov. 21, 2022 6:00 am, Updated: Nov. 21, 2022 7:51 am
DES MOINES — One year after Congress passed a sweeping $1 trillion infrastructure law, Iowa agencies are working to identify projects for more than $2 billion in funding.
Iowa has been allocated $2.2 billion to date, according to the White House. That includes funds for road maintenance, airports, water quality and more. More funding will be allocated over the five-year span of the law.
Roads and bridges
The largest line item from the law is for roads, bridges and roadway safety. Iowa has been allocated $1.5 billion so far and is set to receive $3.9 billion over five years, according to the White House.
While some of that money was a continuation of previous federal funding bills, it resulted in a 30 percent increase in the Iowa Department of Transportation's construction program over the next five years, Iowa DOT Transportation Development Division Director Stuart Anderson said.
Iowa’s five-year construction program last year had $3.6 billion in state and federal funds. This year, the budget is $4.2 billion, allowing for more projects and giving the state and local governments room to deal with inflationary pressures.
The state Transportation Commission approved the five-year program in June. It now includes a reconfigured interchange at Interstate 380 and Wright Brothers Boulevard in Cedar Rapids — the main exit to The Eastern Iowa Airport and a fast-growing area with manufacturing, warehouses and homes.
The increase in funds is “pretty impactful,” Anderson said, but it’s less than the increase the department saw under a 10-cent increase in the state’s gas tax in 2015.
“It’s certainly significant, but it’s not unusual or unheard of based on recent state actions taken to address shortfall in needs for bridge and road and street investment,” he said.
Beyond routine funding for roadways, the law gave money to specific programs dealing with bridges, infrastructure resilience and carbon emission reduction. Certain projects have also been given specific federal funding, including $20 million to improve 2.7 miles of La Porte Road in Waterloo and add sidewalks, bicycle trails and other pedestrian accommodations.
With 4,504 bridges considered “structurally deficient” by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Iowa ranks worst in the nation for the number of bridges with that designation, and second only to West Virginia when taken as a percent of total bridges.
Anderson said the infrastructure money will make some impact on improving Iowa’s bridge problem. But as some bridges are fixed, others will fall into poor condition and he doesn’t expect the number to improve significantly.
“It’s always that balance of how much progress you can make, but certainly this additional funding will help for sure, especially with that dedicated bridge funding,” Anderson said.
Iowa airports have received more than $51 million for improvements, including $20 million for expanding and updating the terminal at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.
The Eastern Iowa Airport will put out a call for bids on the $65 million final phase of the terminal upgrades in December, and construction is expected to begin next spring, airport director Marty Lenss said.
The construction includes adding four new jetways, updating the gate areas, adding a new restaurant and outdoor patio and expanding space outside to accommodate larger aircraft. The project also ads geothermal heating and cooling in the terminal.
Before the airport received the federal grant, it was planning to break up the final construction into two phases because of funding constraints, Lenss said. With the funding boost, the airport is able to complete the upgrades in one project.
“It really has enabled us to do the full phase for the build-out which should serve the entirety of Eastern Iowa for the next 20-plus years,” he said.
Funding for airport terminal upgrades also has been announced for the Des Moines International Airport, the Washington Municipal Airport, the Council Bluffs Municipal Airport and the Dubuque Regional Airport.
More than 70 other regional and municipal airports in Iowa received funding from the Federal Airport Administration to maintain their airports.
The law has allocated $113 million to Iowa to improve water infrastructure and safety.
In total, the amount dedicated to water infrastructure, including drinking water and service line replacement, is about triple what the state would normally see, said Theresa Enright, the State Revolving Fund program coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The state has identified 11 projects in the first round of funding for $24 million in supplemental funding for clean water initiatives, and $28.5 million for drinking water. The Iowa DNR is required to give 49 percent of the money away as loan forgiveness with a focus on disadvantaged communities, Enright said.
“I feel like we’re delivering a methodology of distributing the funding that is fair and equitable as we can, based off of Congress’s general intent, that this funding should be directed toward disadvantaged communities,” Enright said.
White House figures show $45 million has been allocated to replacing lead service lines, and the Iowa DNR is in the process of building an inventory of lead service lines to identify areas in need of replacement, Enright said. The inventory is due to the Environmental Protection Agency by October 2024.
“We, pretty much as a state as a whole, don’t know where all of our lead lines exist, if they do,” Enright said.
Multiple initiatives are coming to Iowa relating to electric vehicles, buses and charging stations.
Iowa has been allocated $18.5 million to install electric vehicle chargers across the state. Over the total five-year span, Iowa is set to receive over $50 million. As of 2021, Iowa had more than 5,880 electric vehicles registered in the state, according to the Iowa DOT.
Iowa received more than $15 million to purchase low- and no-emission buses for local transit programs. The funds can be used to purchase both battery-powered buses and buses that use propane as fuel, which emits less CO2 than traditional diesel buses.
Thirteen rural Iowa school districts also were selected for rebates to purchase electric and low-emission school buses through an EPA program. The schools will purchase a combined 28 electric buses and two propane-powered buses.
Logan-Magnolia School District in Western Iowa’s Logan was awarded nearly $2 million to purchase five electric buses. Superintendent Tom Ridder said he’s hoping the funds will cover the full cost of the buses, saving the school significant money.
While Ridder said the school doesn’t yet know the cost of the electricity to charge the buses, he expects there will be cost savings compared with the cost of fuel.
“You're replacing five buses, obviously the diesel buses are not as expensive, but you have an opportunity to save money on buses, plus also help the environment,” he said. “It's kind of an easy decision to make.”
In other areas, Iowa has been allocated $68 million for infrastructure resilience, $360 million for ports and waterways, $5.9 million for pollution cleanup and $57 million for energy efficiency and power.