DES MOINES, Iowa — With Iowa's increased fuel price in place, how quickly can drivers expect to see road improvements on their daily commutes?
State and county officials say they expect additional road work underway later this year, but it's too soon to talk specifics. The 10-cent a gallon increase started at the pump Sunday and is projected to generate over $200 million annually for the state's bridges and roads, many of which are considered deteriorating or deficient.
"I can think of a couple small bridges that I can move aggressively on," said Lyle Brehm, county engineer for Tama and Poweshiek counties. Brehm, part of the Iowa County Engineers Association, said he has a "very long list of repairs that need to be done."
The Legislature approved the tax increase last week and Gov. Terry Branstad quickly signed it into law. The tax — previously 22 cents per gallon of gasoline, including fees — had not been raised since 1989. But since winning a sixth non-consecutive term, Branstad had been vocal about the need for more infrastructure dollars in the state.
Iowa has about 114,000 miles of road and 25,000 bridges, and the system is aging. The new funding will start to come into the state coffers later in the spring and then it will be divided between counties, cities and the state for road projects, said Stuart Anderson, the director of the planning division in the Iowa Department of Transportation.
"There certainly are a large amount of needs that exist," said Anderson. "This is going to allow the DOT, cities and counties to invest in roads that are most important to moving people, provide them access to work, education, health care."
Anderson said the money likely means the state — guided by the Iowa Transportation Commission — can take on some bigger projects in the next few years, like expanding certain state highways from two to four lanes. But he said there could be some smaller paving or repair projects happening later this year.
One of those potential bigger projects was mentioned by Branstad this week. He said he hoped to see improvements soon to U.S. Highway 20, which runs east to west in the northern part of the state and has one section in western Iowa that needs to be upgraded from two to four lanes.
"Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up," said Branstad, though he noted the final determination rests with the Iowa Transportation Commission.
Still, while the money will help, officials stressed that the new funding won't pay for all the repairs needed in the state.
"It's not going to allow counties to address all the bridge condition issues they have," said Anderson. "But hopefully it allows them to address those that are most important to the movement of goods and people."