By Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer
When I was elected to Congress in 2018, one of my top priorities was to join the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and ensure Iowa had a seat at the table for investments in our roads, bridges, waterways and communities.
Now we do — it’s an honor to serve on the committee and as the vice-chairwoman of highways and transit to bring Iowa voices and priorities into the federal conversation about infrastructure investment and development.
It may not be the most high-profile thing I could do in Washington, but growing up, my dad was a union pipefitter-welder, so I knew what a good job on a big infrastructure project could mean for a working family. As a state legislator, I saw firsthand how investments in infrastructure made Iowa communities safer and more prosperous.
Iowa also has the most structurally deficient bridges in the entire country — so I knew this was a top priority for communities all across my district.
Now, almost two years later, I’m more certain than ever that it was the right decision. I’ve been able to work across the aisle to deliver bipartisan bills to make new investments, extend vital programs and enact needed reforms on behalf of working Iowa families.
In July, when we moved our major infrastructure package through the House, I made sure the bill addressed Iowa’s needs, especially when it came to what we are seeing in our rural communities. That work paid off, with Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio calling our legislation the best bill ever written for rural America.
That package, the Moving Forward Act, invests nearly $4 billion in Iowa transportation and transit systems, schools, housing, broadband access and water infrastructure. It increases funding for rural roads, reestablishes a federal program to help repair and replace structurally deficient bridges, makes Iowa’s homegrown biofuels eligible for $1 billion in new grants, and improves the Safe Routes to Schools program to ensure safer access for kids in rural school districts.
I also fought for and passed an amendment that authorizes an additional $150 million for the Rebuild Rural grant program that improves the safety and connectivity of rural infrastructure, so that people are better able to access job opportunities and get products to market faster.
The Moving Forward Act also includes my legislation to end the practice of fund-swapping — an accounting trick that allows local governments to dodge federal Buy America provisions and requirements guaranteeing fair wages for Iowa workers.
By using this gimmick, local governments can get a free pass building public projects with foreign steel or lower-paid out-of-state workers. It’s harmful to our workers and domestic manufacturers, and undermines the positive return-on-investment that comes with infrastructure development.
This is an issue that goes back to my time in the Iowa Legislature, and when I first got to Congress I immediately brought it up in committee. We initiated a federal investigation into the practice — and then followed it up with our legislation. Fixing our crumbling roads and bridges is a top priority, but states can’t be allowed to cut corners and undercut local workers with an accounting gimmick.
In addition to the road, bridge and other infrastructure investments contained in the Moving Forward Act, we’ve also made great strides this year on new funding and support for our water resources.
We passed the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act to make needed and significant investments in flood-prevention efforts and Mississippi River locks and dams that serve our state’s agricultural exports.
I fought to ensure the package also updates how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluates flood control and mitigation projects — addressing inequities in funding decisions that held back recovery in Cedar Rapids after the 2008 floods.
We’ve also been pushing for the right investments to support our farmers and our river towns, and recently secured the establishment of the Corn Belt Port Statistical Areas — an Army Corps designation for Iowa and Illinois ports up and down the Mississippi River that will make it easier for the ports to attract business and investment, grow the local economy and create new jobs.
When it comes to broadband, I brought Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to Dyersville and Cedar Rapids in 2019 to discuss the importance of high-speed internet access, and later held a field hearing on rural access issues. Later that year, I voted for $640 million in funding for rural internet expansion.
Being your congresswoman means doing the work — listening to Iowans, finding the places where I can make the biggest difference, digging into the details and fighting like heck until we get results.
I’m proud that when it comes to the infrastructure programs and investments that our communities need to grow and thrive, we’ve found real success in these last two years — success that will translate into better jobs at better wages for Iowa families, and safer, more prosperous communities for all of us.
Abby Finkenauer represents Iowa’s First District in the U.S House of Representatives.