Iowa DOT funding in question for traffic resources

Des Moines area to lose two key transportation resources when work on I-235 finishes this year

News Des Moines Business Record March 14, 2007
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As 2007 marks the home stretch of the massive reconstruction of I-235, the Greater Des Moines area stands to lose two key transportation resources when work on the freeway finishes this year, the Des Moines Business Record reported.

As part of the I-235 reconstruction, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) helped implement the Transportation Management Center and the Transportation Management Association. With construction coming to an end, the Iowa DOT no longer plans to invest in these initiatives, leaving community leaders scrambling to pull together an estimated $900,000 in annual funding to keep these programs alive, according to the newspaper.

The Transportation Management Center (TMC), which was developed about five years ago by the Iowa DOT, uses state-of-the-art cameras, traffic sensors and message boards to help manage traffic on the freeway system. The Iowa DOT relies on the cameras to identify traffic incidents requiring police or medical assistance and to monitor timing on traffic signals.

The Transportation Management Association (TMA) was established during the I-235 planning as a joint effort by the Iowa DOT, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMAMPO), the Downtown Community Alliance and the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority. The TMA has designed alternative transportation programs, such as Rest Your Car, to make it easier for people to get to work during road construction, and educated the public about shifting their mode of transportation to reduce the number of automobiles on the road during peak travel times.

Tom Kane, executive director of the DMAMPO, thinks that the TMA and TMC are too valuable to lose. "As Greater Des Moines continues to grow, more people are going to need to change their driving patterns to keep traffic congestion to a minimum, and we'll need the help of technology to move traffic efficiently," he said.

When Kane learned late last year that the Iowa DOT was not planning to include money in its budget for the TMC after the freeway project concludes, he started looking for backup funding sources, the Business Record reported. Kane said the goal is to prove that local sources are putting forth a good-faith effort to cover the costs of the TMA and TMC. He hopes that would encourage the Iowa DOT to not abandon its funding.

Kane said two options are being discussed. The first is for the 18 member governments from the DMAMPO to pony up part of the annual funding for the TMC and TMA. The DMAMPO would provide 30% of the annual operating costs, or $270,000, and local cities and counties would be assessed, based on population, for the remainder of the operating costs, the Business Record reported.

The second option would be for the DMAMPO to use federal money from the Surface Transportation Program to cover some of the annual operating costs for the TMA and TMC, the newspaper reported. Kane said it might be difficult to persuade some DMAMPO board members to allocate those funds toward projects not related to road construction.

Kane will find out soon how local leaders really feel about the issue. The DMAMPO board is scheduled to vote on funding for the TMA and TMC at its March 15 meeting.

"The current funding runs out this year, so we have to push hard to get something done," Kane said.

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