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Iowa’s public works needs ignored too long, White House reports; Ernst tells president to ’do a U-turn’ on plan

Iowa’s public works needs ignored too long, White House reports; Ernst tells president to ’do a U-turn’ on plan

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — A White House report, issued Monday to try to build support for President Joe Biden’s $2-trillion-plus federal infrastructure plan, says the proposal would benefit Iowans by upgrading highways and bridges in need of repair, expanding broadband to underserved areas and helping communities recover from disasters like last summer’s derecho.

Biden administration officials issued the state-by-state breakdown of infrastructure needs the president hopes to address with his federal initiative that zeroed in on a dozen areas that also included housing, drinking water, public transportation, energy, manufacturing and caregiving for children and seniors.

“For decades, infrastructure in Iowa has suffered from a systemic lack of investment,” according to “The Need for Action in Iowa” report that accompanied a call for the president’s plan for a historic investment in infrastructure.

According to the White House report, there are 4,571 bridges and more than 403 miles of highway in poor condition in Iowa.

Also, commute times to and from work have increased by 6.6 percent since 2011 in Iowa, and each driver pays an average of $336 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. Iowans who take public transportation spend an extra 30.4 percent of their time commuting, and about 38 percent of transit vehicles are past what is considered their useful life, the report said.

Another focus area was disaster recovery, with Iowa having experienced 32 extreme weather events during the decade ending in 2020 that accounted for up to $50 billion in damages. The president is seeking $50 billion nationwide to support disaster recovery, but no specific breakdown of proposed spending was given for Iowa communities.

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has made expanded access to high-speed broadband a priority by calling for a $450 million investment in state resources over the next three years, and GOP legislators are looking up including up to $100 million in their fiscal 2022 state budget plan.

According to the White House, 13.4 percent of Iowans live in areas where — by one definition — there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds, and 61 percent of Iowans live in areas where there is only one service provider. Sixteen percent of Iowa households do not have an internet subscription due to cost barriers.

The Republican governor’s office declined to comment Monday on the Democratic president’s proposal and officials with the state Department of Transportation did not respond to questions about how Biden’ plan might address Iowa’s highway and bridge network or impact the ongoing construction schedule.

In Washington, Republican lawmakers have rejected the proposal, pointing out that only a fraction of the spending goes to traditional infrastructure, with billions instead going to expand Medicaid and create electric vehicle charging stations. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, for instance, called Monday on Biden to “do a U-turn” on the proposal.

“From what we’ve seen so far, about less than six percent of President Biden’s plan actually goes to support roads and bridges,” she said in an earlier statement. “More taxpayer money would be spent on electric vehicles than on waterways and roads, like fixing those potholes scattered across town after town throughout this country. And mind you, this shift to electric vehicles will have a devastating impact on Iowa’s ethanol and biodiesel industries, which support our state’s local economies. ”

In other needs categories, the White House report estimates Iowa’s drinking water infrastructure will require $7.9 billion in additional funding over the next 20 years. The plan also called for more investment in housing, home energy upgrades, child care, elderly caregiving, and retooling and revitalizing Iowa’s manufacturing sector.

The report did not include any proposed funding levels specific to Iowa, but overall said the American Jobs Plan included more than $600 billion to transform the nation’s transportation infrastructure — including $115 billion to repair roads and bridges and $85 billion to modernize public transit. Other commitments included another $300 billion for manufacturing upgrades, up to $400 billion to improve the quality of caregiver jobs, about $200 billion to address housing needs, $111 billion to ensure clean drinking water, $100 billion for broadband expansion and $18 billion to improve Veterans Affairs care facilities.

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