Study: Road-building shortfall nears $28 billion
By WILLIAM PETROSKI
DES MOINES REGISTER STAFF WRITER
Iowa is on the verge of a transportation crisis, facing a $27.7 billion shortfall for road construction spending over the next two decades, state officials said today.
Iowa motorists could find themselves facing steep hikes in gasoline taxes or other fees to make up at least some of the difference if state lawmakers agree to changes proposed by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
A DOT report issued today suggests raising taxes to generate a minimum of an additional $200 million annually in road construction revenue. This would be the equivalent of about a 9-cent per gallon increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes.
Taxes could also be raised in many other ways, ranging from increases for pickup truck registrations to boosting fees for driver's licenses, the study said. The report also mentioned the possibility of establishing toll roads in Iowa, although it didn't specify which stretches of highway could be used as toll roads.
Sixty percent of the extra money would go to state road projects, with 20 percent to cities and 20 percent to counties.
Brad Anderson, a spokesman for Gov-elect Chet Culver, issued the following statement in response to the study.
"The only tax increase Governor-elect Culver is supporting is an increase in the cigarette tax to save lives. Governor-elect Culver did not run on a platform that included increasing the gas tax, increasing truck and driver's license fees and toll roads," Anderson said.
"These things this will not be in his upcoming budget, which will focus will be on renewable energy, education, job creation and health care. The Governor-elect understands that this report was requested by the legislature in 2005 and will take a serious look at the report now that it is out," he added.
The problem is the result of flattening revenues, dramatically increasing construction costs, aging infrastructure, increasing usage and deferred maintenance, the DOT report said.
"While the system is not yet broken, it is at the tipping point where the cost to recover will grow exponentially if action is not taken now," the study said.
The $27.7 billion shortfall represents an ideal level of investment which cannot be fully funded in light of needs that exist for all levels of government and the services they provide, the study said. However, there are critical needs hat must be met to avert a transportation crisis, the report added.
The study was prepared for the Iowa Legislature by DOT officials, in consultation with city and county officials, and the road construction industry. The findings are expected to fuel a debate during the upcoming legislative session over road financing issues, including a possible increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, as well as a hike in license plate fees for owners of pickup trucks.
At the state level, critical needs exist on the interstate highway system and on the state's co-called "Commercial and Industrial Network" of major state highways, the report said.
Without more money, it will be impossible or take a very long time to complete improvements on highways that include U.S. 20, U.S. 30, U.S. 34, U.S. 61, U.S. 63, U.S. 169, and many others, the DOT said.
At the county level, the large number of deficient bridges and deteriorating conditions on the farm-to-market road system are affecting the movement of people and goods, the study said. If these needs are not addressed, more bridges will have to be closed and roads vital to the movement of agricultural products will deteriorate, affecting local, regional and statewide economies.
Cities are facing similar issues, the report said, including deteriorating pavement, deferred and reduced maintenance, and the inability to meet the demand for new and expanded roads. The highest priority needs for Iowa's cites are a backlog of maintenance needs critical to supporting and encouraging economic development, the study said.
Money generated from raising state road taxes would be placed in a new account called "Transportation Investment Moves the Economy in the 21st Century (TIME 21) Fund," the DOT report proposed.
"Additional investment in Iowa's public roadway system is vital to sustain and grow our state's economy. This new fund will target new revenue to those areas particularly important to Iowa's economy," DOT officials said.
The TIME-21 Fund has been endorsed by the Iowa DOT, the Iowa County Engineers Association, the Iowa State Association of County Supervisors, the Iowa State Association of Counties, and the Iowa League of Cities.