Advocacy group launches campaign for increased road funding in advance of legislative session

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Advocates seeking more funding for Iowa's bridges and roads have launched an aggressive advertising campaign to build support among residents and lawmakers.

In a television ad that started airing Monday, a narrator notes the thousands of structurally deficient bridges in Iowa, while footage of a bus full of singing school children scrolls across the screen. At the end of the ad, paid for by the Iowa Good Roads Association, the voice of an emergency operator says, "We have a bridge collapse with a bus full of school children."

David Scott, executive director of the association, said the ad will air in media markets across the state for at least two weeks and is part of a bigger campaign that will cost between $500,000 and $800,000 over several months. Scott hopes the ad, produced by Republican-leaning consulting firm Redwave Communications, will get people thinking about road conditions.

"A lot of people just don't see the problem. They drive across structurally deficient bridges, but they don't know it," Scott said.

Scott said his group, which includes trucking companies and auto dealers, wants to see an increase in dedicated funding for road repairs. The group is not directly calling for an increase in the state fuel tax, which has failed in the Legislature in the past, though that would be one option.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Terry Branstad did not respond to a question about the ad campaign but said the governor was interested in working with lawmakers on infrastructure funding in 2015.

"The governor wants to look at a variety of funding methods to further strengthen Iowa's road use tax fund," Greta Johnson said in a statement.

Lindsay McQuarry, policy director for Iowans for Tax Relief, said her group opposes any increase to the fuel tax. She said lawmakers should be strategic with the resources available.

"We've seen record spending on Iowa roads. It's a matter of prioritizing needs, not that there's not funds available," McQuarry said.

Iowa's fuel tax — now 22 cents per gallon, including fees — hasn't been raised since 1989. A commission appointed by Branstad in 2011 recommended an increase of 8 to 10 cents a gallon.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association reports that 5,043 bridges in Iowa were structurally deficient in 2013. That's 21 percent of the bridges in the state. Iowa ranked second nationally for the number of deficient bridges, based on federal data.

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said he hadn't seen the ad but expected the Legislature to consider transportation funding when lawmakers convene in 2015. It's too early to say if there was support for a fuel tax increase in the Republican-majority House, Paulsen said.

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