Young Chinese professionals visit Iowa DOT

ChinesedelegatesOn the surface, Iowa and China don’t appear to have much in common, but in a recent visit to the Iowa DOT a delegation of young professionals from China were very interested in our highway system.

John Selmer, director of the Performance and Technology Division, met with the group. He said, “Transportation is more than just moving people around. It impacts culture. In Iowa, we expect to be able to go where we need to go on roads that are well maintained. I don’t think the Chinese people have that expectation yet, but they are getting there.”

Prior to 1980, the majority of Chinese people and freight moved by rail. China is just finishing the largest construction program in the world. The announced goal in 2005 was to build a network of 53,000 miles of expressways over the next three decades, connecting all provincial capitals and cities with a population of more than 200,000 residents. Exceeding that goal, the expressway network of China now has more than 60,000 miles, with 7,000 miles being built in 2012 alone, encouraging travel and opening up new markets for local agricultural products. It may be surprising, but even with the road construction boom in China, Iowa would have 10 times the miles of roads if you expand Iowa to the size of China.

Selmer explained to the delegation that Iowa’s transportation system is owned by the people of Iowa. The Iowa DOT’s job is to do a great job at managing these assets. He said, “I explained to them that we’re not going to build many new roads in the future; our focus has shifted to maintaining the system we have and showing the public that we’re using their money wisely.”

The group asked many questions, including why Iowa doesn’t have more public transportation. Selmer said, “I explained that we do have public transit systems throughout the state, but our population density doesn’t support the type of system they are used to in China.” Iowa has a population of 3 million people in 56,000 square miles, or 53 people per mile. China’s population is approximately 1.3 billion people in 3.7 million square miles, or 350 people per square mile.”

Because paved roads in rural areas are relatively new to China, the delegates asked about safety and how people drive safely around farm equipment. Selmer said, “Our road system is older, so our people are used to looking for farm equipment in the spring and fall. We also discussed how the Iowa DOT uses news releases and social media to remind people to watch out for slow-moving vehicles.”

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