What happens if a train derails in Iowa? Scott Marler, Director of the Iowa DOT explains how prepared our state is for train derailments, how common derailments are, why construction zones block off lanes for no reason, and new roadwork worker tech that talks to your car’s navigation app.
Marler also discusses the federal infrastructure package as it relates to Iowa, the safety of Iowa’s bridges, why higher EV registration is actually a wash in overall taxes, digital IDs, and what is the deal with I-80 near Iowa city? Will that ever be done?
Train derailments in Iowa
Every year in Iowa we have dozens of train-related incidents across the state. In 2022 alone Iowa experienced 48 incidents, not all were derailments of course, but Marler said derailments aren’t actually that rare. The incident in East Palestine of course is rare.
That’s why Marler’s team has spent a great degree of strategy time putting together various plans to address these when they do happen. They have a set emergency response and provision of state code that requires trains to immediately notify Iowa, and they work with the Department of Homeland Security and the Iowa DNR. These agencies, counties, towns and the state is tightly coordinated and ready for new events.
“We always maintain a level of readiness and preparedness at all times.” Marler said. “It did give us the opportunity to revisit some of the plans that we already have in place to make sure they are laser focused where they need to be.”
Are the train derailments a coordinated attack?
Rumors are swirling that perhaps this is a coordinated attack or terrorist activity. When asked if this is an intentional act, or if he has seen any memos or notices from Homeland Security, Marler said “I’m not aware of anything like that.” So, don’t worry no one’s targeting our trains, at least not that our public officials are aware of.
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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The Iowa DOT saw a 30% increase in funding from the Infastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but the competition factor is that they’ve also experienced inflation in this same period. The good news is Iowa was already prepared before the law passed.
In 2015, the legislature passed a new fuel tax, which did a lot more for Iowa roads than the federal money says Marler. That’s good news.
Are Iowa bridges safe?
According to the Iowa DOT, “There are 1,481 bridge structures in Iowa that are made primarily of wood and currently open to traffic.” So, are they safe? Yes. “There are only two types of bridges. A safe bridge and a closed bridge,” said Marler. “We inspect bridges across the state every 2 years.”
We are 7th in the nation for bridges due to our extensive farm-to-market system. Part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Law will deliver around $3.4 billion for federal-aid highway programs over 5 years, and of that $432 million is for bridge replacement and repairs over five years.
How many EVs are in Iowa?
“In Iowa, currently, we have more than 10,000 electric vehicles registered right now in this state.” Marler said, “The predominance of those are actually battery electric vehicles, not plug-in hybrids.”
As Iowans adopt EVs however, how do we maintain roads? Iowa roads, in part are paid by the fuel tax and EVs don’t use fuel. This is why the legislature passed a law in 2019 to increase the registration tax on electric vehicles by $130. It sounds like a lot, but Marler confirms the amount in fuel tax you’d pay is about a wash than if you’d have a gas vehicle. R
Traffic passing through Iowa will also be taxed 0.026¢ per Kilowatt Hour at commercial charging stations. If you’re charging at your house via the grid or solar panels, you won’t see that tax.
Road worker tech and lane closures
Marler also discussed new tech that will allow road workers to communicate to car navigation apps and why they close down lanes without doing any work. It’s actually a time and money saving tactic. Listen to the interview!