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Iowa DOT: Planning ahead

State transportation plan provides data trends, framework for future


Federal law requires the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) to have a long-range statewide transportation plan. But Craig O’Riley thinks the newest plan released by the DOT goes above and beyond.

O’Riley, planning team leader for the office of systems planning for the DOT, sees the Iowa in Motion – Planning Ahead 2040 state transportation plan as an educational resource.

“Basically what we’re looking at doing in the plan is we want to communicate our policy, help our DOT Commission in making investment decisions, support the development of our programming efforts, and we also want to work really closely with the metropolitan planning organizations and our regional planning associations,” O’Riley said.

The plan is the first that the DOT has done since 1997, though officials have a goal of releasing a new plan every five years from here on. Its framework is focused around the areas of safety, efficiency and quality of life.

The Business Record took a look at some key elements of the plan.

Demographic and population trends

“It’s all good to say our population is growing, we’re aging, our passenger trends are doing this. But what we’ve tried to do is kind of come back to those trends and provide information of how it relates to transportation,” O’Riley said.

Pulling numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent statistics in 2010, Iowa’s population is growing more slowly at 4.1 percent than the national average of 9.7 percent, but it is increasingly moving to metropolitan areas. Iowa’s metro population is expected to be 60 percent of the state’s total by 2040.

This could mean that metro areas will face increased congestion while rural areas could receive less funding for deteriorating roadways, the plan says.

The median age of the population has increased to 38 from 30 since 1980, and the percentage of the population older than the age of 65 was 14.9 percent, the fifth-highest in the country.

The plan points out that an aging population could require things such as larger print on road signs, more visible pavement markings and better roadway lighting.

More options

One thing that stands out in the plan, O’Riley said, is finding a way to provide more transportation options.

Those could include public transportation such as bus systems and passenger rail, as well as carpools, more park-and-ride lots and biking options.

“What we’re starting to see now is not necessarily just for our older people in the state, but I think what we’re seeing is younger people are looking toward those mobility options out there,” O’Riley said.

Public feedback

The DOT asked for public feedback to see what investments people thought were most important, and received 264 survey responses. The plan included percentages of respondents who identified priorities.

Additional funding

The plan takes a look at different modal transportation plans and studies to come up with projected DOT revenues and expenses on a per-year basis between now and 2040.

Overall, the plan projects annual DOT costs to average $1.4 billion and average DOT revenue to be $1.1 billion, resulting in an average shortfall of about $305 million per year.

The largest shortfall is $221 million per year in the highway costs and revenue. All other categories – aviation, bicycle and pedestrian, public transit and rail – had shortfalls as well.

The plan only takes DOT revenues into account when addressing the shortfall, noting that there are other sources of funding that could help make up the gap, including federal programs, bonds, fares and private investment. It looks at other options more in depth, but as O’Riley notes, funding options that are identified are meant to be resources for discussion for other governing bodies, rather than DOT recommendations.

“The only thing is, if you’ve been in Iowa for any length of time, you probably understand that Iowa is more of a pay-as-you-go state,” he said. “We haven’t been, as a state, real interested in borrowing money today and then repaying that in the future. Not that that can’t happen, but typically Iowa is more of a pay-as-you-go state.”

Still, the plan says, “There is a funding shortfall that will dramatically worsen over time if action is not taken to identify new/additional financial resources.”

Todd Ashby, executive director of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, commended the DOT’s efforts in laying out additional funding options.

“Of course it’s up to the Legislature and the government on how they want to pursue that,” Ashby said. “But they’ve done a lot of good work on (looking at) what are some potential options and how much revenue they might generate out of those.”

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