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Four-lane US Highway 20

June Bremer stands in the front yard of her rural Holstein, Iowa, home in November 2013 as traffic flows past on U.S. Highway 20. Her family sold eight acres of land to the state in the 1960s for a four-lane expansion of the highway, but work on that section of the road still hasn't begun.

Several entities wanting to see expanded Iowa highways will meet legislators in the so-called Transportation Day at the state capitol Wednesday.  A substantial part of the discussions will involve whether the Iowa Legislature should increase the state gasoline tax for the first time since 1989.

Some groups, including the Iowa State Association of Counties, have announced support for the gas tax increase. Due to some discomfort by lawmakers and others on using the word "tax," the phrase "user fee" is sometimes being substituted these days.

"The user fee stands out as the best method for increasing revenue because it allows Iowa to collect funds from out-of-state drivers who also use our roads," U.S. 30 Association President Edith Pfeffer said in a release.

The U.S. 20 Association, Iowa League of Cities, Iowa Good Roads Association, Iowa Bankers Association and many others will take part in the lobbying. Shirley Phillips, the Sac City resident who heads the U.S. 20 group, says the time of inactivity on a gas tax should be over, although multiple options to boost revenues will be aired.

James Lynch of the Journal's Des Moines bureau this week reported state Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, has floated a plan (Senate File 2042) to take 2 percent of the adjusted gross general fund revenues off the top for transportation infrastructure.

Forty-four miles of Highway 20, from Moville east to Early, remain to be widened from two to four lanes, at an estimated cost of $375 million.

ISAC notes that shortfalls in state highway spending have resulted in counties borrowing money (paid back via property taxes) to fill the gap. ISAC supports phasing in a 10-cent gas tax increase over several years. Woodbury County Engineer Mark Nahra, who oversees the county road repairs, supports a gas tax increase too.

The current state tax is 21 cents for gasoline, 22.5 cents for diesel and 19 cents for ethanol.

In a Burlington, Iowa, legislative event last week, Democratic state Rep. Dennis Cohoon noted a House bill with a gas tax hike of 10 cents over three years has been assigned to a subcommittee. Passing that measure could provide $215 million, or roughly the amount Iowa Department of Transportation officials say is needed to maintain the existing system in Iowa.

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County and education reporter

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