By Frank Cownie - 03/20/12 11:49 PM EDT
I am proud of Des Moines, Iowa, and the national recognition for economic vitality and a superior quality of life we have received. Critical to our success is good transportation and infrastructure. As Des Moines’s mayor, I have fought for the transportation dollars we need to ensure ongoing economic growth and sustainability. Located in the heart of America at the crossroads of Interstates 80 and 35, we depend on our roads and highways, railways and air transportation for the effective and efficient transportation of goods and people. Des Moines is home to some of the nation’s largest transportation firms, and our airport is one of the nation’s leading air cargo centers.
It is important that Republicans and Democrats work together to find sensible transportation solutions for America. We will not achieve our economic potential if we fail to have a well-planned, long-term transportation bill that gives us a 21st century transportation system that delivers our products and people across the United States and the world quickly, safely and efficiently.
The pending transportation legislation holds federal commitments constant and adds new provisions that support local officials to advance the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. The U.S. Mayors Conference, led by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), asked Congress to support the “America Fast Forward” agenda — an initiative that seeks a larger TIFIA commitment. Under this plan, local communities can use the allocated transportation resources to accelerate planned improvements, which include initiatives that reduce future transportation costs for taxpayers.
As my fellow mayors do, I support MAP-21 and its companion legislation in the House, which will deliver additional financing tools needed to expand infrastructure investment. Mayors and our metropolitan areas need more tools to finance our growing transportation needs. Of course, it is our desire that federal funding grows as time progresses.
We all recognize that local efforts are limited. Since 2000, however, local government has led all government entities in growing new funding for highway investment. In fact, during the first decade of the 21st century, local leaders increased highway funding commitments (exclusive of borrowed funds) by 66 percent while states grew their funding by only 40 percent. Truly, local leaders face the greatest challenge, as our taxpayers fund the transportation investments from a limited source — mostly property taxes — compared to state and federal governments, which procure funding from gas taxes and other user taxes that are unavailable to us.
If we fail to act on the transportation bill, the consequences will be significant. For example, Des Moines building projects we have supported for our economic health will be at risk for ongoing business development. I think we all recognize that economic vitality and certainty both depend on good transportation and a consistent and reliable program upon which we can plan.
One of Des Moines’s transportation projects, the Southeast Connector, relies partially on funding for completion from the new transportation bill. The project will enable us to continue the redevelopment of commercial and residential property that has fallen into disrepair over decades. While modest compared to many national projects, Des Moines’s SE Connector joins arterial roadways and highways, resulting in reduced delays, improved fuel efficiency and safety and new jobs. Kemin, an international manufacturer of nutritional supplements that enhance food safety and longevity, is headquartered in this area. Expanding its research and production at this location was dependent on our commitment to complete the SE Connector. As a result of the proposed $10 million federal investment, we will create 200 construction jobs and create 10 times as many jobs in the private business development sector, while retaining an important business partner and taxpayer.
In conclusion, the proposed transportation bill maximizes the impact of scarce federal funds and allows local leaders to decide their best use for the greatest benefit. I advocate the Transportation Mobility Program continue to apportion 62.5 percent for local Metropolitan Planning Organizations to ensure we continue to move forward for great transportation solutions for our local metropolitan areas. As Des Moines’s mayor, I wholeheartedly support a federal transportation bill that ensures transportation dollars are allocated for best use as determined by local leaders. We know from numerous studies and economic reports that economic growth will come from our metro areas. Therefore, it makes sense to support a transportation bill that will give metro leaders the power to allocate transportation funding for local projects determined to be most effective for their community’s economic success.
Cownie (D) is mayor of Des Moines, Iowa.