Almost a quarter of Iowa’s rural bridges are structurally deficient, according to a recent study from Washington D.C. based non-profit TRIP.
Across the United States, 11 percent of rural bridges are structurally deficient, meaning they exhibit significant deterioration on the bridge deck itself. Additionally, 10 percent of U.S. bridges are functionally obsolete and no longer meet current highway design standards.
There are a few reasons that 22 percent of Iowa’s bridges have deteriorated; for one, there’s a lot of them. The Iowa DOT estimates more than 24,000 across the state. Additionally, throughout the 20th century rural residents moved into urban areas, leaving fewer taxpayers in remote areas to fund bridge repairs and maintenance. Short of the recent ten-cent fuel tax increase, funding on the state level has been elusive.
Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek says all of that adds up to a crumbling bridges that leaves agriculture in the 21st century dependent on 20th century infrastructure.
Steenhoek says, ”We’ve had this amazing progression and evolution within the agricultural industry, from the seeds that are used, to the equipment that’s used to plant and harvest, to how those agricultural products are marketed. But when you juxtapose that progression within the industry to the rural roads and bridges that farmers depend upon, there’s a pretty significant chasm between the two, and our rural roads and bridges are very reminiscent of what people would’ve experienced in the 1940s and 1950s.”
To solve the problem, Steenhoek says the Iowa Soybean Association is chasing a quarter of a million dollars in state funding, in addition to its own $50,000 commitment, to use Iowa State University technology to asses bridge structures using electronic sensors and trucks hauling loads of certain weights.
That funding could become available as early as late June or early July. If funding is secured, Steenhoek says testing would begin immediately.