Government

Finkenauer: 'Critical' to act on Iowa's deteriorating infrastructure

Congresswoman speaks with labor leaders in Cedar Rapids

File photo: Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer speaks July 14 at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids. (Amir Prellberg/Freelance)
File photo: Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer speaks July 14 at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids. (Amir Prellberg/Freelance)

CEDAR RAPIDS — When considering infrastructure needs, the numbers are staggering, 1st District U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer says.

There are about 4,000 structurally deficient bridges in Iowa — a quarter of them in her Northeast Iowa district that includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque. Then there are the Mississippi River locks and dams, which are 30 years out of date and too short to accommodate barge traffic, especially in high water.

The problem isn’t contained to Iowa, added U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, who joined Finkenauer for a tour Monday of 1st District infrastructure.

About 40 percent of the roadbeds on the national highway system have deteriorated to the point they need to be rebuilt. But the federal motor fuel tax hasn’t been increased since 1993. Airports, water, wastewater and transit infrastructure is facing similar problems, DeFazio said during a meeting with labor leaders.

The price tag to address the issue is staggering, Finkenauer and DeFazio said.

“It’s not cheap, but it’s not cheap to ignore the problems,” she said. Her estimate is that congressional inaction on the issue costs the average family $3,000 a year.

So Congress borrows $17 billion a year to maintain an inadequate federal infrastructure program, DeFazio said.

In the House, where she is serving her first term, Democrats and Republicans have been working together to find solutions, said Finkenauer, who is seeking reelection in 2020.

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“It’s frustrating that House Democrats and Republicans I’ve been working with are ready to sit at the table and be open to a lot of different ideas, whatever the Senate and the administration will come with,” she said. “We can have those discussions to figure out what’s the best way forward.”

Among the funding mechanisms DeFazio mentioned was raising the corporate tax. Each 1 percent increase would generate $100 billion per year, he said. There’s support in the trucking industry for increasing the motor fuel tax by 1.5 cents per gallon per year to raise $500 billion.

“We’re going to set the goals,” DeFazio said. “We’re going to set the policy and the objectives.” However, he added, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee doesn’t set the funding mechanism.

Much of the conversation Monday focused on common-sense approaches to infrastructure issues, as well as labor leaders’ concerns for apprenticeship programs, wage protections and buy-American programs.

“We have a backlog of projects that need to get done. It’s critical,” Finkenauer said. “It’s very clear we have a heck of a lot more work to do.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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