Transportation officials say complicates
plans for this summer's road construction season
By William Petroski
The Des Moines Register
AMES, Iowa State transportation officials are worried
that the lack of a new federal highway spending package is
hurting their ability to plan for the summer road construction
Thousands of construction jobs are at stake,
along with dozens of road projects throughout Iowa. State
officials said they must be cautious because there is no clear
signal how much federal money will be provided.
"It's a roller-coaster ride. We don't know
what is going to happen with any certainty," Iowa Department
of Transportation Director Mark Wandro said.
President Bush has threatened to veto the bill
if it goes much beyond Bush's $256 billion limit. GOP lawmakers
have said the nation's crumbling infrastructure demands far
more, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., set the target
at $275 billion.
The U.S. Senate last month passed a six-year,
$318 billion highway and transit bill. The issue is pending
in the House.
Because of the uncertainty, Wandro said the
Iowa Transportation Commission hasn't approved highway projects
beyond June 30. The commission has no choice but to begin
making plans next month for road construction during the 2005
state budget year, which begins July 1, he said.
The commission traditionally approves a new
five-year plan each December. The old federal spending law,
in effect for the past six years, expired last Sept. 30, but
federal money has continued to arrive in Iowa under short-term
The state agency spends about $400 million annually
on highway projects. About half comes from the federal government;
the rest is state money.
State officials have provided Iowa's congressional
delegation with a list of projects considered priorities that
could use additional special federal money: Interstate Highway
235 in the Des Moines area; I-74 in Scott County, including
the Mississippi River bridge in Davenport; I-29 in Sioux City;
I-29/80 in Council Bluffs; and I-80 in the Iowa City area.
"What we need are timely appropriations
and a timely reauthorization bill and preferably more money,"
Wandro said, "because the needs are greater today than
they were in the past."
U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat
and member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee, said he considers approval of a new highway bill
a priority because of the potential to stimulate the economy
and create jobs. Boswell said a House subcommittee is expected
to deal with the highway bill next week. The full committee
could consider it the following week, then hopefully the bill
can be quickly approved by the full House and sent to a House-Senate
conference committee to resolve differences, he said.
"We desperately need to have this six-year
bill. I think people are starting to understand that,"
Scott Newhard, director of public affairs for
the Associated General Contractors of Iowa, said the lack
of a federal highway bill could create problems because weather
limits the length of Iowa's construction season. Some projects
might have to be postponed for a year, he said.
David Scott, executive director of the Iowa
Good Roads Association, a highway lobby group, said supporters
of road projects want a strong federal highway bill, but they
don't want to send President Bush a bill that's so costly
it would be vetoed.
Gerald Kennedy, assistant administrator of the
Iowa Division of the Federal Highway Administration, said
his agency faces bureaucratic headaches because of the situation.
The agency works with state officials to carry out federal
"The bottom line is that we are left in
a real quagmire trying to figure out where to go," he