Johnson County supervisors approve nearly $9M bridge-replacement project


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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved a nearly $9 million bridge replacement project for Mehaffey bridge, but are not pleased with the total cost.

Local lawmakers said various options are being considered to avoid such infrastructure issues in the future.

“Johnson County is not going to ignore the fact that we have significant road projects,” said Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. “There's an expectation out there from people to get from one place to another … if the state of Iowa doesn't act on the gas tax or the federal government doesn’t pitch in, then local property taxpayers have to pay more.”

The project would replace a major bridge over Coralville Reservoir. According to the Department of Transportation, an average of 3,410 people used the bridge each day in 2010. The 50-year-old bridge is starting to have weight restrictions because of its condition.

The board constantly lobbied for federal funding for the project starting in 2004, Neuzil said. Their efforts were able to secure funding for separate trail in the area, but were unable to decrease the cost of the “biggest, most expensive project” in the history of Johnson County, which was not lost on other board members during their meeting.

Rettig said this was one of the reasons counties are “clamoring” for an increase in the road use tax fund and, regardless, she and other members were not pleased with the cost of the project. She hoped the scope of such a project would be the last one she would approve during her time.

“If you don’t have sticker shock you’re not human,” Board Chair Janelle Rettig said during the meeting.

And local legislators are considering options to help alleviate funding problems that have affected local infrastructure projects such as the Mehaffey Bridge.

“Infrastructure in Iowa certainly needs to be revamped,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville. “We have been patching holes in it for so many years.”

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said besides additional state funds, he would also like to see consideration of an increased gas tax during this session of the legislature.

“I would really hope to be looking at [the gas tax] this year,” he said. "I think there is enough interest in both caucus in the Senate and the House to move forward…”

The tax would go to the road use tax fund, which is a collection of revenues from the current gas tax and vehicle licensing among other items. The fund is used to support improvements to roadways and bridges.

A local Republican party official said the party is philosophically opposed to any tax increase particularly a consumption tax.

“This is a bad idea, because it hurts poor people, low income families, and college students who need gas to get to their jobs,” said Debora Thornton, chair of the Johnson County Republicans.

Neuzil said the county would use a “plethora” of options to help cover the cost of the project including using money from the federal land purchases as well as some bonds to improve the bridge.

He believes that while expensive, such projects are not only necessary, but crucial to a future investment in the local economy.

“We understand at the local level and are trying to advocate investment in our infrastructure and future economic development," he said. "Folks continue to keep pouring money into our economy, but people can't get to or from places, and that’s not wise for economic development."

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