Iowa lawmakers hope to introduce bill next week increasing fuel tax to fund road improvements

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DES MOINES, Iowa — A bill to increase Iowa's fuel tax to pay for road improvements could be introduced as early as next week, lawmakers said Wednesday.

Sen. Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, and Rep. Joshua Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, said they are working on legislation that would increase the tax, potentially by 10 cents a gallon. That would provide $215 million annually for the state's network of bridges and roads, many of which are in disrepair.

"I've never felt more optimistic about moving forward with the gas tax," said Bowman to a group of county officials and business leaders gathered in Des Moines to lobby lawmakers on transportation issues. He noted the drop in gasoline prices, as well as Gov. Terry Branstad's support for increasing dollars for roads.

Iowa's fuel tax is currently 22 cents a gallon, including fees. It hasn't been raised since 1989. The lawmakers, who chair the transportation committees in each chamber, said they are working on ways to maintain the funding in future years. The revenue from a 10-cent tax increase is expected to decline as vehicles become more fuel efficient.

Byrnes said he'd like to see action on the bill in February, but it will need approval from lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-majority House. Leaders in both chambers have been meeting with the governor and all have expressed interest in reaching a compromise.

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.

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