A commission comprised of citizens hand-picked by the governor has determined a short list of possible improvements to Iowa infrastructure. Among the possible improvements include an 8 to 10 cent increase in the fuel tax, as well as a 1 percent increase in new vehicle registration fees.
The Transportation 2020 Citizens Advisory Commission was appointed earlier this year by Gov. Terry Branstad to offer a citizen’s perspective on the maintenence of public roadways and the use of road taxes, as well as any suggestions for improvement. The CAC was responsible for holding a series of seven public input meetings across the state, during which time Iowa citizens were given an opportunity to share ideas.
The information gathered will be presented to the Iowa Department of Transportation in November. A five-year report, mandated by Iowa law, will be assembled using this information, and presented at the end of the year.
According to Stu Anderson, DOT planning, programming and modal division, the recommendations that the 12 member commission will present to the DOT is the culmination of a significant public input initiative.
“About 200 folks made specific comments,” Anderson said. “It was a good turnout and a good cross-section of (Iowans).”
Attendees from the public and private sector made comments at the public input sessions, all of which were discussed by commission members at a meeting last week. At a meeting later this month, commission members will be tasked with finalizing their report, along with their recommendations.
Jeff Corkery, superintendent of the Western Dubuque School District, was chosen for the commission based on the unique transportation challenges his district faces.
He said that according to DOT reports, over the next 20 years, Iowans will accumulate a $27 billion shortfall in funds needed to maintain infrastructure. To keep operating at what they call a “critical” level, i.e. providing only integral services, Corkery said about $200 million annually needs to be found.
Having stayed consistent for about 20 years, Corkery believes that the sales tax increase on gas is probably long overdue.
“When you look at the states around us, particularly the winter states (Illinois, Wisconsin), all of them have a sales tax a nickel to 20 cents higher,” he said.
DOT calculations show that for every 1 cent increase per gallon, the state would raise about $23 million each year. Add in the 1 percent increase to new vehicle registration fees, and the state could raise about $200 million each year.
But even that may not be enough, Corkery said.
“I think it’s a start, but it falls short of what the actual needs will be,” he said.
The problems with Iowa roads, including potholes, crumbling streets and bridges, are possibly more severe than people realize, Corkery said. Investing the money to help repair them would likely be a wash in the end, he believes, because all the money that people are not paying higher taxes is being invested into repairing vehicle wear and tear.