• Fri February 01 2008
  • Posted Feb 1, 2008
Lawmakers look for a way to fund repairs to the state's crumbling roads and bridges By MARY RAE BRAGG TH staff writer A $10 license fee for some bike riders is one of the more original ideas being bandied about in Des Moines as a way to raise money for the state's roads. Proposed by John Putney, R-Gladbrook, the bill would apply only to Iowans who ride on highways and secondary roads, not to those riding in town or on bike trails. It also would not apply to bike race participants or events like the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, doesn't think there's much chance of a bike license law getting anywhere, but he said it illustrates the lengths to which lawmakers are willing to go to get state road revenue. If the fund is based on taxing those who wear out the roads, bicyclists are not going to be on the list, Hancock said. But he is hearing from constituents who drive vehicles on the roads and don't want the gasoline tax raised, either. The Senate Transportation Committee that Hancock sits on is spending the early part of the legislative session listening to experts talk about the road situation in an attempt to get as much information as possible before trying to put together a bill that will meet needs without causing an uproar among taxpayers. Department of Transportation Director Nancy Richardson testified that skyrocketing costs for construction materials, caused by demand for the products from China and India, are creating a major financial hardship. The interstate road system dates from the 1960s, and the overlays used to keep them in operation have reached their limit, Richardson said. Hancock said Richardson quoted a $1 billion price tag for construction of one major bridge. Trying to find enough money for maintenance doesn't even begin to address the cost of building new highways, such as the arterial bypass planned for a southwest corridor around Dubuque. TIME-21, the legislative study committee that has been looking into financing road and bridge work, is recommending a transportation budget of $200 million annually. Hancock said ideas for getting additional revenue to support the higher spending are varied, but an increase in the gas tax, although seen as a political problem in an election year, "seems to be back in the conversation." He said the Legislature will look at a "multitude" of funding sources. A 4 cents-per-gallon gas tax increase would raise $88 million. Equalizing registration fees so that pickup trucks would cost as much to register as other vehicles would bring in another $88 million. There also are proposals to raise the cost of motorcycle licenses and trailer registration, as well as enacting a 5 percent vehicle registration fee that would replace the 5 percent use tax on vehicle sales.

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