Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Culver pushes for federal stimulus package

(Photo: Gov. Culver pheasant hunting in Carroll over the weekend.)

Gov. Chet Culver is urging Congress to pass a stimulus package that would assist Iowa with flood recovery as well as address roads, bridges and other long-neglected infrastructure needs.

Dealing with the aftermath of the floods remains the Democratic governor’s priority, but Culver sees moving on “ready to go” transportation projects as a way to dramatically boost the Hawkeye State’s economy.

“We have major rebuilding that has to happen just because of severe weather this past year, not just the floods and tornadoes,” Culver said in Carroll on Friday afternoon.
In an interview with the Carroll Daily Times Herald and Carroll Broadcasting at Sam’s Sodas & Sandwiches, Culver said the stimulus package — which President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to shepherd through Congress if it doesn’t act in the waning days of the Bush administration — is vital for Iowa.

“What I am trying to do is really capitalize on the opportunity with the likelihood of federal infusion of financial assistance,” Culver said.

He said money could go to improving information technology and even the state’s trails systems.

“It’s a real opportunity for smart growth and sustainability,” Culver said.

In Iowa, there are 20 projects totaling as much as $150 million that are ready to go next spring. These are projects that go beyond those that are already scheduled to begin construction, and include work on four interstates and five highways in 17 Iowa counties, the governor says. It is projected that this work could mean more than 6,000 jobs in Iowa.

A recent report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials shows the influence that infrastructure investment has on the economy. The report notes that for every $100 million in highway investment, more than 4,400 jobs are created or supported.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Culver said. “I mean it’s clearly daunting in terms of the recovery efforts from the floods but it’s also an opportunity to address some infrastructure needs that have been neglected for too long.”

Specifically, there are immediate needs with levees in eastern Iowa.

“There will be some priority projects,” Culver said. “But I think we need to look at this as a comprehensive longer-term project.”

He said the Rebuild Iowa Commission will have more to say on that in a 120-day report, which will be released this week.

On his way from Des Moines to Carroll last week, Culver encountered some of the ongoing road work on U.S. Highway 30.

When the Daily Times Herald asked him directly if his experience provoked any thoughts on future four-laning Culver said: “I can tell you that it’s a sure noticeable difference between east of Ames on 30 and west of Ames on 30.”

He made no specific commitments for U.S. 30 work, which has long ranked behind other road in priority among the state’s politicians.

Culver is not the only governor pressing for a stimulus package for public works.
In Arizona, for example, Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, testified before Congress that money invested in roads and highways could inject money into the flagging construction sector.

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