Iowa Leads the Nation in Bad Bridges

DES MOINES, Iowa -- More than 55,000 bridges in America have been deemed structurally deficient, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association's analysis of transportation department data.

Iowa has the most bridges in poor shape, according to the new report. The report from the ARTBA says “of the 24,184 bridges in Iowa, 4,968, or 21%, are classified as structurally deficient. This means one or more of the key bridge elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure, is considered to be in “poor” or worse condition.”

The report also says the state has identified needed repairs on nearly 15,000 bridges, which the state estimates will cost $7 million. However, Iowa DOT Bridge Maintenance and Inspection Engineer Scott Neubauer believes that figure is very misleading. Neubauer provided the following comments in response to the ARTBA's report and analysis:

"...This data is from the submittal for bridges that is made annually to the Federal Highway Administration. In this data there are fields that can be used to identify work type needed and cost estimates. These fields have not been used consistently among local agencies because it is not a required entry into the database. The state has never used these fields because we have our own system to track project needs. The estimated cost for these repairs or replacements is far too low. I don’t have a way to give a more accurate estimate.

The number of Structurally Deficient bridges in Iowa has not changed significantly for many years. We were at a high in 2011 and have reduced the number by almost 300 since then. There are only 61 Structurally Deficient bridges on (the) Primary state highway system. The majority of the Structurally Deficient bridges are on county highways. Half of the Structurally Deficient bridges on the county highways have fewer than 35 vehicles per day crossing them. The average of all Structurally Deficient county bridges is only 112 vehicles per day. With these low volumes of traffic, it is very hard to justify spending large amounts of money to replace bridges that are serving their purpose safely.

A Structurally Deficient bridge is not necessarily unsafe. 424 of the 4,968 Structurally Deficient bridges are closed to traffic because they are unsafe.

By Federal regulation, every bridge is required to be inspected at least every 24 months, if not more often as an owner see’s fit. Every county in Iowa is required by law to have a licensed engineer in charge of their roadway system. This is different than many other states. With an engineer overseeing the bridges in each county, this puts someone with expert understanding of structural conditions making the decisions about the needs of the highway system."