Government

Iowa making progress fixing deficient bridges, DOT says in budget request

Agencies make their case to Gov. Kim Reynolds for state funding

Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe makes introductions at the start of his state budget presentation to Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday at the state Capitol in Des Moines. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Iowa Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe makes introductions at the start of his state budget presentation to Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday at the state Capitol in Des Moines. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa is making progress addressing structurally deficient bridges.

Mark Lowe, director of the state Department of Transportation, said his agency has dedicated highway funding to reducing the number of problem bridges from 256 in 2006 to 51 last year, and he expects the total to be down to 46 by the end of this year.

Iowa has ranked among the worst U.S. states for having a high number of structurally deficient bridges, but Lowe said DOT repair crews have worked to reduce that number to about 1.5 percent of the roughly 24,000 bridges in the state.

“We can’t relax on that,” he told Gov. Kim Reynolds during a budget hearing Monday.

Lowe said the state is investing about $3.4 billion in the DOT’s highway program this year, with $1.8 billion dedicated to modernization and enhanced safety features. He said about 55 percent of this year’s highway program projects are in rural areas.

Lowe was among eight state agencies or elective executive-branch offices that made appeals to Reynolds on Monday for additional funding during the fiscal 2020 and 2021 budget years. Reynolds is slated to present her two-year spending plan to the GOP-run Legislature on Jan. 15.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig asked for an extra $250,000 to support foreign animal disease response preparations as part of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s budget request.

“Iowa’s $13.45 billion animal industry continues to see significant growth and is a key economic driver four our state,” Naig told the governor. “Avian influenza, African swine fever and other foreign animal diseases continue to present a significant threat to our livestock farms and emphasize the need for us to expand efforts to prevent, prepare and potentially respond to an animal disease emergency. He said a disease outbreak would cause significant market disruption, noting “animal disease is an ever-present threat, and we’re on the front line.”

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Naig also requested continued funding of $10.75 million to support “scaling up” water-quality initiatives, and he requested $3 million in infrastructure money to expand ethanol dispensers, blender pumps, and biodiesel dispensers and storage facilities. He said President Donald Trump’s action for year-round E15 sales means “now is the time to keep the pedal down on higher blends.”

Also Monday, Molly Phillips of Iowa Public Television asked the governor to fund a $150,000 request that would allow the statewide network to resume 24-hour programming starting July 1. Phillips noted that tight budgets in recent years have forced IPTV to shut down its nine broadcast transmitters and eight translators from midnight to 5 a.m. daily.

She said it is imperative that IPTV resume overnight service to ensure the network can meet its commitment to Iowans with 24/7 educational programming, emergency alerts and fulfill its public media mission to provide free educational support to children and families with the greatest need. She noted that the network is a public-private venture, and private contributions are up about 14 percent this year.

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

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