Iowa’s Quad-Cities are backing out of a program administered by the Iowa Department of Transportation that critics say circumvents federal requirements on major infrastructure projects.
The Bi-State Regional Commission’s transportation policy committee, which oversees regional projects that get federal dollars, voted to leave the program Tuesday afternoon by a 5-2 margin. Only members on the Iowa side participated in the vote.
Ahead of casting the final “aye,” Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch, the committee’s chairman, called the decision a “very challenging issue” for the community. He questioned conclusions made on both sides, saying his decision to opt out was rooted more in local popular opinion than verifiable data.
“This is one of those things that make it difficult because you don’t feel good either way, ultimately,” Klipsch said. “But I think in the long run it will work and we will move forward."
At issue is a program created in 2017 by Iowa’s Republican-led legislature that swaps federal dollars for state dollars. Called the “Federal-Aid Swap,” all cities and towns in Iowa were automatically adopted into the program upon the legislation’s final passage.
Supporters say the program allows municipal governments to save money on administrative and engineering costs, while opponents argue it threatened to hurt the local economy by removing federal protections.
In recent months, a local coalition of organized labor workers, businesses and contractors formed to call on area leaders to leave Iowa’s program. They say the swap does not require federal prevailing wage rules for area workers, nor use of advantages given to minority- and women-owned businesses in the competitive bidding process.
Tuesday’s outcome was expected. Klipsch announced during a meeting in City Hall last week that he and two other Davenport members would vote that way, joining others on the Iowa side who’d already committed to opting out.
One of the dissenting votes came from Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher. During an interview with the Quad-City Times last week, the mayor noted his city would be the first to incur higher expenses under the decision. Administrative and engineering costs are expected to be between $800,000 and $1.6 million higher on a federally funded project on Forest Grove, Gallagher said.
Gallagher also cast doubt on the conclusion that Iowa’s program results in fewer contracts going to local contractors, saying “that’s just not true.”
The decision made Tuesday is the second by an Iowa metropolitan planning organization to leave the Iowa Department of Transportation’s program. Officials in Johnson County voted to opt out following a similar community discussion.