Where will Iowa's new road cash go?
Members of the U.S. 20 Corridor Association met in Holstein on Friday. They learned the Senate and House passed Access Iowa Highways, a session law intended to designate portions of the Commercial and Industrial Network (CIN) as "Access Iowa Highways." The language of Access Iowa Highways includes a directive to the Iowa Department of Transportation to expedite and accelerate development of Access Iowa Highways and "...consider the direct and priority linkages between economic centers within the state" to enhance regional accessibility.
State Senator Steve Warnstadt revived this language. Access Iowa Highways is an amendment to an appropriations bill awaiting Governor Tom Vilsack's signature. Senator Warnstadt told the US 20 Association Access Iowa Highways clearly indicates the desire of the Legislature that four-lane US 20 be a priority.
The cities on opposite ends of the two-lane section of US 20 recently sent delegations to Washington, D.C. to talk with federal lawmakers about transportation issues. The Siouxland delegation came home with a positive feeling about a new Transportation Reauthorization Bill being debated this year. "We felt they were more energized to do the highway bill than ever before," Barbara Sloniker, director of government relations for the Siouxland Chamber said. "Comments varied. We started by talking to Congressman Steve King who is wholly supportive of four-lane US 20. And Congressman Fortenberry of Nebraska has gotten an earmark for Nebraska Highway 35 that connects with Highway 20."
The group met with the Senate Majority Leader and House Whip, as well as Congressman Don Young of Alaska who chairs the House Transportation Committee and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.
Steve Hoesel, MIDAS Council of Governments, went to Washington with a delegation from Fort Dodge.
"There are no problems in D.C. The staffs of Senators Harkin and Grassley and Congressman Latham said we will continue to see small earmarks. But using those to finish the road will take 20 to 25 years," he told the group in Holstein.
According to what Hoesel learned in D.C., the least Iowa will receive in the Transportation Reauthorization bill is a 41 percent increase in spending for highways. The Association's challenge becomes convincing the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission to allocate the appropriate share to completing US 20 once those increased funds reach Iowa.
The present 2006 Iowa Department of Transportation Draft Highway Plan does not reflect the anticipated increase in funding. Hoesel encouraged the Association to become very proactive over the next few weeks regarding the open DOT Commission seat by promoting a candidate from northwest Iowa who will be an active proponent of this project. "We need someone supportive of US 20 on the Commission who will have an impact on where the extra money is going to go," he stated.
The Association also heard from Republican candidate for governor Bob Vander Plaats who said, "I fully support the completion of Highway 20. And if elected your governor, I will put the pressure on to see that it is completed." Vander Plaats noted that Iowa ranks 48th in growth according to the U.S. Census. Completing the Highway 20 corridor will help reverse that trend, in Vander Plaats' opinion.
The US 20 Association is planning two events in July. A ribbon cutting will be held in conjunction with the Iowa DOT for the newest section of four-lane US 20 in Webster County.
The hopes to take part in a tri-state transportation event being planned to include members of Congress. "US 20 is 'The Midwest Connector' and we hope to share the progress being made on both sides of the Missouri River at this event," said Director Shirley Phillips.