Lauver: Where the rubber meets rural roads, reinvestment is needed


Wind farm

Andrew Lauver

As Americans we usually think of oil, land, cereal grains and manufactured goods as pillars of wealth in our economy, but what are all these goods worth with no way to transport them?

The quality of our infrastructure in the United States is one of the best in the world. Oftentimes we take for granted the blessing that comes easy as we travel to work, school or play. In fact, we are an economic world power because of our ability to travel and transport by rail, water and interstate highways. As Americans we pay taxes to create new roads and expansions of four lane highways around the nation. It is our social responsibility to pay these taxes and reinvest in our nation by creating a better future through transportation.

As individuals, we realize this responsibility for our own personal and family welfare in the communities we live. We have done a great job of maintaining and engineering interstate highways so smooth they create a feeling of riding on air and bridges that are so beautiful they have become tourist attractions.

What about the roads less traveled?

Many of the roads that are used for agricultural transport in rural areas have a hard time handling the size of modern equipment in the United States. Even the visionary county engineers who built these roads and bridges in the 1930s couldn’t have planned for such monstrous masses of steel. We have seen a transformation in agriculture no one could have expected when the county engineers built many of these roads.

These engineers couldn’t have dreamed of semis loaded with gross weights of grain or livestock weighing in over 90,000 pounds. Initially, the paths for our roads were strictly used for horse and buggy transport. We then transitioned to small tractors and wagons which began to put stress on the gravel and dirt roads, but nothing compared to what we experience today.

When you look around the Corn Belt you are hard pressed to find soil that doesn’t grow cereal grains or provide pasture for cattle. In fact, we have some of the most productive soils in the world right on the campus of Iowa State. It is imperative we keep our position of leadership in producing food for the world by reinvesting in our rural infrastructure to ensure the travel and transport of our livestock and cereal grains will forever be adequate. If we don’t have the infrastructure to transport these commodities the soil that produces such high yields, we lose all value in them.

As we look ahead this is only going to become more of an issue for us as taxpayers. We must continue to plan for larger equipment and higher yields. As farmers, we are investing in technology that is allowing us to attain higher yields through more intensely managed agronomic practices. This will continue to create more grain putting increased pressure on our roads.

There is also an underlying importance maintaining these rural roads as we attract stakeholders that may invest in Iowa businesses. We need economic development in our rural Iowa areas, and if we do not have adequate roads for employees travel to work we will lose out on business and development across the state. Even so, we must be careful of higher taxes to create these roads that will inhibit entrepreneurs from taking chances and building new businesses which employ our rural Iowans.

Moving forward it is imperative we increase the gas tax in Iowa. This will mean the people who are using our roads across the state will be paying for them through the tax. We have not had an increase in the tax since 1989. If our legislators are able to work together to increase the gas tax while reducing property and income taxes, we certainly see a solution in improved transportation across the state. It is projected we will see a $215 million shortfall in the funding needed for our roads this year. The gas tax has seen support in the Iowa House and Senate over the past year. The proposed increase in the gas tax is project to create $176 million per year for our roads and bridges.

Opponents of the gas tax simply state Iowans don’t need more taxation. An increase in the gas tax comes at one of the toughest times for Iowans as we stretch our dollars every day to pay for daily necessities such as gas.

Even so, this gas tax increase has the potential to bring employers flocking into Iowa attracting new business with our world class rural and urban infrastructure.

In summary, if you haven’t experienced rural Iowa travel on a gravel road in need of maintenance, I encourage you to drive on State Street, which becomes a gravel road leading to our ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences teaching farms. You will experience a ride like no other bouncing around on a washboard while dodging potholes as if they are preparing to eat your tires for lunch.