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Commission approves $3.6 billion five-year transportation plan for Iowa

But coronavirus outbreak presents some funding challenges for Department of Transportation

Traffic on Interstate 380 moves through the S-curve in March 2019 in downtown Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)
Traffic on Interstate 380 moves through the S-curve in March 2019 in downtown Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)

AMES — The Iowa Transportation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a nearly $3.6 billion five-year transportation plan. But the plan faces short-term funding challenges because reduced travel and vehicle sales in Iowa during the coronavirus pandemic cut projected revenue.

The fiscal 2021-2025 state transportation improvement program covers road-use tax fund investments for aviation, public transit, railroads, trails, highways and other elements of Iowa’s multimodal transportation system. Included was more than $2 billion to modernize Iowa’s highway system and enhance safety features.

Stuart Anderson, director of the DOT’s planning, programming and modal division, told commissioners at their informal meeting Monday that short-term revisions could be required because revenue flowing into the state’s road use tax fund is projected to decline by $100 million through October because the coronavirus has disrupted Iowans’ travel and vehicle purchasing patterns.

To cover cash-flow needs and keep construction projects on track, the commission granted DOT authority to borrow up to $40 million from the Reinvest in Iowa’s Sound Economy, or RISE, program. The RISE account receives about $50 million annually.

DOT officials said significant across-the-board construction cost increases last year forced them to revise many project estimates and limited the funding available for new projects, while a few projects were delayed by one year from the schedule identified in the previous five-year plan. However, no projects were removed from last year’s program available for highway right of way and construction, according to DOT staff.

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak has been exacerbated by the lack of a federal transportation funding reauthorization plan that accounts for a significant share of the highway investments, Anderson noted. The primary DOT investment strategy is focused on the safety, maintenance and modernization of Iowa’s highway system, he added.

According to DOT staff, the proposed five-year program includes more than $1.1 billion of investments in Iowa’s state-owned bridges to improve their overall condition. The number of poor bridges on the state highway system has been reduced from 256 in 2006 to 39 in 2019, according to the staff report.

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The five-year plan also focuses on maintaining the interstate system, which connects all transportation systems in Iowa and facilitates the efficient movement of freight in and out of Iowa.

The DOT five-year program is posted here.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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