Fed funds going to waste?
Representatives of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association presented petitions calling for the swift completion of four-lane U.S. 20 across Iowa to the Iowa DOT Commission this week. The petitions contained about 10,000 signatures.
"Signatures on the petitions come from 324 Iowa cities, 84 Iowa counties," said Sharon Irwin, Early, secretary of the U.S. 20 Association. "There are also signatures from 28 other states, several Canadian provinces and Washington, D.C."
Shirley Phillips, the Association president from Sac City, told the DOT Commissioners about two recent U.S. 20 events at the Iowa State Capitol.
A small group testified about the need for statewide four-lane U.S. 20 in front of the Senate Transportation Committee on January 25. "We talked about economic development issues," Phillips said. "We were preceded by Iowa Department of Economic Development Director Mike Blouin who told Senators about the tie between economic growth and transportation. We need to complete four-lane U.S. 20 to serve that growth and bring more opportunity to an underserved part of the state.
"A completed four-lane US 20 will benefit the entire state and our neighbors as well."
On February 3, the US 20 Corridor Association held a Legislative Day at the State Capitol. Speaker of the Iowa House Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City) stated, "The facts speak for themselves. A four-lane Highway 20 in eastern and central Iowa has led to growth in population, growth in businesses and a growth in tax valuations.
"For years, northwest Iowa has been promised that same expansion. And for years, while the eastern half of the state has grown, population in western Iowa has dwindled."
Phillips adds, "People are telling us they've heard more about Highway 20 now than they have in years. The need is apparent, support is huge, federal money is coming in. We must progress - not be patient.
"The Association and the Commission have the same goals - our timelines differ. The longer we wait, the more expensive the project becomes. The longer we wait, the more people and businesses the state will lose."
DOT Director Mark Wandro and members of the Commission have encouraged members of the US 20 Association to seek federal earmarks for US 20. Both Congressman Tom Latham and Congressman Steve King have been successful in getting US 20 earmarks in the 2004 and 2005 Omnibus Spending Bills. Congressman Latham's earmarks are being used in Webster County where seven more miles of US 20 will be paved this year. Congressman King's $3.55 million earmark for rural Woodbury, Ida and Sac Counties are unprogrammed and unspent.
"There is no official "sunset" on this earmark but there is a very real need for these funds to be spent," Phillips commented.
In 1993, about $1.5 million in earmarked funds for the US 20 corridor project were returned to the federal government by the DOT because they were not obligated, members of the commission said.