The director of the Iowa Department of Transportation is urging lawmakers to find more money for road and bridge repair. D.O.T. director Nancy Richardson testified Wednesday before a legislative committee that’s looking for ways to plug a hole in the state’s road fund.
Richardson says this summer’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis drove home the importance of finding more money for road repairs. "We’re concerned about a crisis and I think what we learned from the bridge…every year that we don’t get the funding, the problems just get larger," Richardson says.
Richardson says Iowans now understand the magnitude of the problem and she believes they’re willing to pay higher gas taxes to pay for road and bridge upkeep. "At the time of the bridge collapse, I certainly wasn’t willing to talk about what that meant to us in funding, but if it has done anything it has been a wake-up call in this country and certainly in Iowa," Richardson says. "Iowa has the fifth highest number of bridges in the nation."
Lawmakers are considering everything from an increase in the gas tax to higher registration fees for pick-up trucks. Senator Tom Reilly, a Democrat from Oskaloosa, says whatever the legislature does is bound to anger some voters, but he says lawmakers have to do something now or the problem will grow worse."If we don’t do anything…what’s the other option?" Reilly asks. "Just dig a bigger hole."
Senator John Putney, a Republican from Gladbrook, has been a long-time supporter of raising the registration fees for pick-ups and Putney says he’s finding more and more Iowans agree pick-ups shouldn’t get a price break when other vehicle owners pay much higher registration fees. But Putney fears the recent hike in the state tax on cigarettes makes Iowans less willing to accept a hike in the gas tax.