Don’t expect the 190-plus business and civic leaders participating in the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s 34th annual Washington, D.C., trip to come home bearing gifts in the forms of grants and bushels of cash. But, when the delegation does return, you can be sure that the issues and challenges facing Central Iowa will have been heard by congressional leaders and that the seeds will have been planted for securing funding for future projects in the region. 

The May 8-10 trip, which serves as an opportunity for participants to network in a retreat-type setting and helps educate both congressional leaders and participants, also allows the business community to build relationships and advocate for the issues and projects that are key to the region. Trip participants will have the opportunity to meet with high-level congressional members including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The Partnership trip has a history of success helping advocate for federal funding for projects - the Principal Riverwalk and Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority’s Transit Hub are recent examples - but successful federal advocacy is a long-term process, and projects are often on the policy agenda for a number of years.

There are a wide variety of issues and projects included in the Partnership’s recently approved 2013 federal policy agenda, many of which will be worked on next week.

I sat down with Matt Hinch, the Partnership’s senior vice president of government relations and public policy, and Partnership CEO Jay Byers in advance of the trip and asked them to provide an overview of the trip and to highlight some of the projects and issues that would be among the many advocated for and discussed.

Transportation Projects:

The four transportation projects highlighted below are projects that the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has selected as priorities from its list of fiscal 2014 transportation appropriations requests. An additional four projects are on that list and considered as needed, but they are not deemed priorities at this time by the MPO. Hinch said that congressional leaders prefer a list of priorities so they are not put in the position of picking one project over another for funding. These projects rarely get completed in a year and often receive funding from the federal government over a number of years. For example, the Alice’s Road project in Waukee, which is on the appropriations request list but is not listed as a priority, has been receiving piecemeal dollars from the federal government since 2005.

Southeast Connector - Des Moines

Area leaders are working to extend Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway east from Southeast Ninth Street to connect to U.S. Highway 65. In 2012, Des Moines received a $10 million federal grant for the project, less than the $30 million city officials had hoped for. This only allowed them to move forward with building a two-lane road beginning at Southeast 15th Street and going to Southeast 30th instead of a four-lane road. Officials had already secured money for an extension of a four-lane divided road to Southeast 14th Street.

Bus Rapid Transit - Des Moines

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) wants to make its new Route 60 loop - Ingersoll Avenue to downtown to University Avenue - a bus rapid transit line, which is a bus route that operates like a rail service. In 2012 the state declined DART’s request for $2 million in funding, which would have helped the agency get closer to its goal of raising $5 million locally. That amount would help DART qualify for a $20 million federal grant. The transit system has secured $1.8 million from the city of Des Moines and a number of private sources, and is asking for a $2.5 million state grant this year.

I-80 interchange at U.S. 65 and side roads - Altoona

Federal money would be used for the reconstruction of mainline pavement and ramps at the Interstate 80/U.S. Highway 65 interchange and side roads as well.

66th Ave. & Kempton Bridge replacement - Johnston

Federal money would be used to rebuild Northwest 66th Avenue and to replace the Kempton Bridge over the Des Moines River from Northwest 26th Street to Northwest Beaver Drive.

Arts and Culture Projects:

A variety of projects are seeking federal grants on their own and are applying to a variety of agencies. The Partnership has a subgroup that focuses solely on quality-of-life issues for the federal policy agenda. The projects below have been identified by the subgroup as priority projects.

Living History Farms

The organization is applying for a $185,980 grant for its Learning Fields program, an educational program about modern agriculture for third- to fifth-grade students.

State Historical Museum

The museum is seeking $55,809 for planning and collections management, and a $45,000 grant for the Hollywood in the Heartland exhibition. The museum will begin planning for a revitalization for the building and museum that will incorporate a Capitol complex visitors center into the visitor experience.

Des Moines Social Club

The organization is requesting a $15,000 grant for performance and theater programming.

Italian-American Cultural Center

The center intends to seek federal funding to leverage private investment for its new facility.

Blank Park Zoo

The zoo is requesting an amendment to the Fort Des Moines Historic Preservation plan that would remove five properties on the zoo’s grounds and enable further growth of the zoo.

The Issues:

It’s not all projects, many issues will be discussed as well. Workshops on workplace wellness, K-12 education and housing and delvelopment are on the official agenda and Hinch said the ongoing issue of health-care reform is bound to be discussed.

The Partnership doesn’t prioritze issues, but one that Hinch made sure to point out is immigration reform. The Partnership supports comprehensive immigration reform, and there couldn’t be a better time to be in Washington advocating on the issue.

With the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” releasing its comprehensive immigration reform plan in mid-April, the issue is boiling to the surface, and Iowa’s perspective is sure to be discussed with congressional members and staff, Hinch said.

Trip participants will partake in a workshop on the issue, which will highlight the issues Iowa employers face and possible solutions.

“We need access to the best and brightest minds,” Hinch said. “Our current immigration system is broken, and it doesn’t allow for us to sometimes have access to world-class talent.”