Government

Iowa DOT lays out $3.6 billion five-year transportation plan

Revenue hit expected from the coronavirus, so projects could change

Cranes dot the sky as workers reconstruct the Interstate 80-380 intersection west of Iowa City. The major project remain
Cranes dot the sky as workers reconstruct the Interstate 80-380 intersection west of Iowa City. The major project remains in the Iowa Department of Transportations new five-year plan, though officials expect a loss of millions from the state gasoline tax since Iowans were driving less during the coronavirus pandemic. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — State Department of Transportation officials have unveiled a nearly $3.6 billion five-year transportation plan that includes more than $2 billion to modernize Iowa’s highway system and enhance safety features.

DOT officials said significant across-the-board construction cost increases last year forced them to delay some projects and limited the funding available for new projects.

However, no projects have been axed, DOT staff said.

Uncertainty over the effects of the coronavirus epidemic that has impacted Iowans’ travel and vehicle purchases may require short-term revisions if revenue flowing into the state’s road use tax fund declines significantly.

The agency expects that state fuel tax and vehicle registration fees collected this spring but reported in June will be down by about 25 percent, said Stuart Anderson, director of the DOT’s planning, programming and modal division.

That could translate into a roughly $35 million drop in the road revenue split by the state, cities and counties, although DOT officials report traffic volumes have slowly increased since April 10.

“We’re not recommending any immediate revisions to the program just because there’s a lot of uncertainty over what the final impacts will be and how long they will be,” Anderson said in an interview.

“In addition, there has been some discussion in Congress of providing some backfill to state and local governments for lost transportation revenues,” he added.

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“We’re certainly not planning on that happening, but since it’s an item of discussion, we feel like the commission ought to go ahead and move forward with this program but be prepared to take action if that’s necessary at the DOT level.”

At the same time, Anderson said DOT officials are delaying plans to let bids in July for some projects until they have a better fix on their revenue prospects.

Members of the Iowa Transportation Commission, which will take up the plan at next month’s meeting.

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

“While the number of poor bridges has been decreasing, many bridges are coming due for repair/replacement so increasing investment in bridges continues to be a priority in this program,” according to a DOT news release.

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

Among the interstate work in the five-year plan are six-lane improvements on I-35 in Polk and Story counties; replacement of the I-74 Mississippi River bridge in Bettendorf; reconstruction of the I-80/380 Interchange near Iowa City; six-lane I-80 improvements in Dallas and Johnson counties; construction of the I-380/Tower Terrace interchange in Hiawatha; and the system reconstruction in Council Bluffs.

Despite limited funding, the commission is adding several projects that address safety and operational needs, including reconstruction and elevating Iowa Highway 2 in Fremont County from the Missouri River overflow bridges to the Horse Creek bridges. The project will be supported with federal emergency relief funding.

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Other projects added include “Super-2” improvements on Highway 18 in Hancock County and Highway 30 in Cedar County.

Also, Anderson said the commission remains committed large, multiyear corridor improvement projects that include the Highway 9 Mississippi River Bridge replacement in Lansing; Highway 17 in Boone County north of Highway 30; Highway 18 in Floyd County at the Highway 218 intersection in Floyd; Highway 20 in Dubuque County at Swiss Valley Road; Highway 30 in Harrison County for the Missouri Valley bypass; Highway 30 in Story County from east of I-35 to 590th Avenue; Highway 30 in Tama/Benton counties from the Tama Bypass to the west junction of Highway 218; Highway 61 in Des Moines and Louisa counties from Burlington to Highway 92; Highway 63 in Mahaska County for the Oskaloosa bypass; Highway 69 in Polk County from I-80 to SE 33rd Street in Ankeny; and Highway 218 in Bremer County from Janesville to Waverly.

About 55 percent of the $3.6 billion program is being invested in rural areas over the next five years, Anderson said.

Anderson said the funds represent about 60 percent state funding and 40 percent federal money and the new proposal is basically flat funding, with the current five-year plan carrying a $3.5 billion price tag.

The 2021-25 program also includes investments in Iowa’s multimodal transportation system covering aviation, public transit, railroads and trails.

The draft DOT program is posted and available for public comment on the https://iowadot.gov/program_management/Five-Year-Program.

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

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