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Increase Gas Tax—Fund Highway Expansions

While some states are cutting back on transportation expenditures as funds run short, Iowa is not one of them, having passed a 10-cent gas tax increase that took effect March 1. New highway expansions are funded in addition to "fix it first."
June 14, 2015, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Of the eight states that have increased their gas taxes this year (the first seven are here and Nebraska's here), Iowa's 10-cent increase was the highest. Consequently, the Iowa Transportation Commission approved a record spending plan, "highlighted by $3.2 billion for fiscal 2016-20 on highway construction and right-of-way acquisition," writes B.A. Morelli of The Gazette. "The five-year plan is 20 percent larger than the $2.7 billion 2015-19 plan approved last June."

“It is a very balanced approach,” said Commissioner Dan Huber of Davenport. “There’s a significant increase in stewardship. We will be able to do a significant amount of work on existing roads and bridges. We’ve been able to maintain the expansion projects that have been in prior plans, and add some key projects, included [sic] Highway 20, 30 and 61.” [Italics added].

The Associated Press pointed out that the $286.4 for expanding Highway 20 from two to four lanes may be serving an economic stimulus as much as it's sfilling a transportation need.

Iowa Transportation Commissioner Charese Yanney, of Sioux City “it is a proven fact” that economic development in nearby communities increases when highways are expanded to four lanes.

To be sure, the plan does address road and bridge repair and replacement, including "96 bridge replacements at $831 million," according to Morelli.

Nonetheless, the highway projects have left some unhappy with the gas tax increase. According to the Sierra Club Iowa Chapter:

Several organizations launched "fix it first" campaigns to encourage lawmakers to specify in the bills that improvements to current infrastructure should have priority over new construction.  That never happened.

While rehabilitating structurally deficient roads and bridges is on the agenda in several eastern Iowa cities, so is widening and adding turn lanes, widening highways and interchanges according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

It appears that the chapter did not take a position on the legislation to increase the gas tax, but did take the following position on how to spend gas tax revenue according to their legislative blog:

The Chapter opposes (a)ny increase in the gas tax for new highway construction. In the event the gas tax is increased, Sierra Club supports only using the funds to repair existing highways and infrastructure.

The above-referenced Cedar Rapids Gazette article, also written by Morelli, describes in detail how some of the additional $200 million in new funds made possible by the 10-cent gas tax increase will benefit local counties and cities which will receive 32.5 percent and 20 percent, respectively, with the remaining "47.5 percent for Iowa’s primary highways and interstates." 

“It’s a start,” said Ron Knoche, public works director in Iowa City. “The reason why when we talk about these things — road rehabilitation and resurfacing as opposed to new roads or reconstruction — is because we are behind on maintenance of our road system. 

"As of 2009, two-thirds of Iowa City’s pavement is in fair or poor condition," he said.

Hat tip: Clyde Anderson, Sierra Club Transportation Committee

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, June 9, 2015 in The Gazette
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