Roads, bridges, broadband, and sidewalks: That’s just a taste of what Iowa mayors are excited to see come to their cities with the passage of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.
Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last Monday after it passed the House of Representatives last week. Iowa will get about $5 billion for projects.
“It is a tremendous, tremendous relief because, you know, there is no Democratic pothole, there’s no Republican potholes,” said Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart. “These will be able to address problems that are faced on the local level by our citizens.”
Dubuque Mayor-elect Brad Cavanagh said they’ve been waiting for an infrastructure bill such as this one for years.
“Dubuque has been planning for this for a long time and has really worked to position ourselves to be able to capitalize on whatever infrastructure bill comes along,” he said.
According to a White House fact sheet, over five years Iowa will receive $3.4 billion for roads, $638 million for water-quality projects, $432 million for bridge repair and replacement, $302 million for public transportation, $120 million for airports, $100 million for broadband, $51 million for an electric vehicle charging network, and more.
Details and guidelines still need to be worked out, but most Iowa leaders have ideas for where to direct money when it comes to them.
Hart said that in addition to necessary bridge and road repairs, one major priority will be connecting city systems to a broadband infrastructure. That includes all public works systems such as traffic lights, police equipment, and the sewer system.
Another goal is improving safety and quality of life with sidewalks and bike access to enhance people’s ability to walk in Waterloo. Hart also mentioned improving access to public transportation.
“We’re making decisions that are going to impact our children and our children’s children,” Hart said. “And so this investment will make sure that we’re able to do that. I think it’ll make for a stronger city, stronger communities, but I think it’s going to make for a much stronger America for future generations to come.”
Cavanagh had many of the same priorities regarding roads and broadband. He said Dubuque also has a lot of aging infrastructure that needs to be updated, which includes making the city more friendly to pedestrians.
“There is a lot of funding for things like trails and bike lanes and sidewalks in this particular bill that we’re very excited about because it’s perfectly in line with a lot of the things that we’re already planning,” he said.
Britt Mayor Ryan Arndorfer hopes this bill provides options for water treatment plant construction.
“Unfortunately, our median income is slightly too high for us to qualify for many current USDA grants,” he said in an email.
State Rep. Kristin Sunde of West Des Moines is most excited about the resources that will help upgrade and expand the Des Moines airport. It could help bring more convenient, affordable flights to travelers which would also help attract business to the Des Moines area.
Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer said his city needs every resource it can get when it comes to infrastructure projects. A tornado tore through downtown Marshalltown in 2018, destroying a significant part of Main Street and surrounding neighborhoods. Then the 2020 derecho added more damage to the list the city already had to work with.
“We’ve got a rebuilding thing going on like nobody else does,” Greer said.
It’s also opened up opportunities to make improvements such as adding sidewalks and upgrading buildings. Greer said most of the sidewalks are going into the neighborhoods around the schools and major roads.
The pandemic also highlighted how many people in Marshalltown don’t have access to strong internet access, so the broadband piece of the infrastructure bill will be important, Greer said.
In the meantime, the Marshalltown Public Library remains a big resource for people going without.
“It has Wi-Fi and at midnight on a Sunday night if you drive by, you’ll probably see some vehicles parked there just borrowing the Wi-Fi,” Greer said.
Aside from traditional infrastructure needs, Iowa leaders are also excited about the prospect of job opportunities.
Iowa Sen. Jackie Smith of Sioux City is excited about the bill and that feeling is echoed by union members she’s talked to.
“They are feeling that there’s going to be long-term job growth, that those that incomes will increase, quality of work is going to be ensured,” she said. “The more I learn about our opportunities, the better I feel.”
Smith said she hopes this is the start of the country building back and regaining some hope.
“It feels like growth, it feels like there’s a future and a reason, then, to live and stay in Iowa,” she said. “And we just have to figure out how to, you know, make it all work and make it equitable.”
Moody’s Analytics predicts the infrastructure will create more than 800,000 jobs across the country when at its peak impact in a few years.
The mayors Starting Line spoke to said they were excited for those jobs, as well as opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint of their cities.
Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
Included in the infrastructure bill are several provisions related to climate resiliency and renewable options such as electric vehicles.
“We’re ahead of the game,” Greer said of Marhsalltown. “We just redid a parking lot downtown and we made sure that we had at least two electric vehicle charging spots. And they’re already getting use and a lot of compliments. I know several business owners have made it a point to make sure that when they remodel or improve anything around their businesses, they’re putting in the EV charging spots.”
Cavanagh, Dubuque’s incoming mayor, wants to install more electric vehicle charging spots to support the city’s ambition to have an all-electric fleet of city vehicles.
“We found that our city fleet is the largest emitter that we have under our control as a city government,” he said. “There’s a huge benefit, huge sustainability benefit to being able to go electric versus your traditional gasoline combustion engine.”
Cavanagh also wants to bury more of the city’s floodwall to help protect it from the Mississippi River.
“We really want to take that on and that is something that is a possibility now that this bill has passed,” he said.
Hart said the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will deliver for so many communities that need this investment and improvement. He’s thankful it got the support to pass.
“It’s going to make a strong, strong American community for generations to come,” he said.
by Nikoel Hytrek