Governor Chet Culver has embarked on a public relations tour around the state designed to highlight projects which would be financed by his $750 million borrowing proposal. Culver unveiled details of the plan on Thursday, revealing he wants to spend about a third of that money on roads and bridges.
Iowa Department of Transportation director Nancy Richardson says there are 25,000 bridges in Iowa. "That makes us fifth-highest in the nation, so that’s a lot of bridges," Richardson says. "And unfortunately we have slightly higher than 25 percent of that number across the state — county, cities’ and state bridges…classified, using federal classifications…deficient in one of two categories."
Bridges are classified as "functionally obsolete" which if they’re not wide enough or if today’s higher-profile vehicles can’t clear them. When bridges are classified as "structurally deficient," traffic is sometimes limited — for instance trucks with heavy loads are barred from using the bridge. "Obviously if they are unsafe for travel the counties, the cities or the state will close them, but they are all deficient in some way. So that’s a lot of bridges out of 25,000 bridges if we’ve got a fourth of those (considered deficient), certainly there are a lot of bridges out there that need work," Richardson says. "The governor has had a lot of interest in highway safety in general, but particularly bridges since the nation all had a wake-up call related to the bridge collapse."
The Interstate-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed during evening rush hour on August 1st, 2007. Thirteen people were killed; 145 were injured.
Governor Culver’s borrowing plant also proposes spending $100 million on water quality projects. That would provide state money for many of the five-hundred cities around the state which lack a storm sewer system or need to update their storm sewers in order to comply with new federal regulations.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources director Rich Leopold envisions a new round of state grants for sewer-related projects. "We’re looking at $50 million that will leverage out about $300 million of federal money going into these infrastructure projects," Leopold says.
The governor and Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge have been traveling the state since January, urging local officials to support the idea of a state-level "stimulus" package. On Friday morning, Governor Culver visited a spot in Des Moines where city officials hope to build a "transit hub" with state funds. Next week, Culver will visit "shovel ready" projects proposed for northern and eastern Iowa and the lieutenant governor will go to western Iowa sites.