Roadwork Boom Creates Jobs, But Irritates Iowa Motorists

Fri August 19, 2005 - Midwest Edition

DES MOINES, IA (AP) Even as Iowa motorists find themselves in a maze of detours around road construction sites, the boom in such projects has created thousands of jobs for workers, suppliers and local businesses.

The Iowa Department of Transportation estimates that 47,576 jobs are created for every $1 billion in road spending, spokeswoman Dena Gray-Fisher said. That includes 12,000 construction jobs, 7,000 jobs in equipment and materials supply, 7,000 to boost production of needed supplies and 21,052 jobs in local businesses patronized by the additional workers.

And economic development officials say the $1.5 billion currently being spent on road projects will help the state attract even more business.

“Road construction means we’re getting more people, better access ... and congestion is the price you pay for progress,” said Tina Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

Some area residents find the price a bit steep, especially during the congested morning and evening commutes.

“I come to work about nine different ways. I avoid the freeways always during rush hour,” said Jerry Zuffa, a graphic designer at ING, and Johnston resident. “The parts that are finished ride like velvet, but it just takes so ... long for the work to get done.”

Most of the major projects under way in the state will not be completed until 2007.

Roadwork projects include a 270-mile stretch of the Avenue of the Saints, connecting St. Paul, MN, to St. Louis, MO, at an estimated cost of $396 million; a 55-mile length of Iowa Highway 60 from Le Mars to the Minnesota border, $225 million; a 166-mile route from the east side of Des Moines to Burlington, $502 million; and the reconstruction of Interstate 235 in Des Moines, $429 million.

“There seems to be no rhyme or reason about this construction to the common car person,” Zuffa said, adding that getting around on the north end of town is particularly annoying.

“If you are northwest or west of the city, it’s just a zoo,” Zuffa said. “You usually take the back roads, and you have to be very familiar with the city to know which of those roads to take.”

Zuffa said in some ways it appears the state has become too excited about finding ways to spend federal transportation money, and has not taken into consideration the short-term impact on Iowa drivers.

Zuffa said his commuting time from Johnston to downtown Des Moines has doubled since the I-235 project. His alternate route is a complicated trek of streets that zig and zag beneath or above the congested freeway.