For years, Iowa has been the reigning champion in number of structurally deficient bridges in the state.
The ranking comes from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which found 19% of Iowa’s 23,982 bridges are structurally deficient — 4,571 in total.
According to the ARTBA, 1 in 3 bridges in the United States need repaired or replaced, and the Biden administration has taken notice.
The American Jobs Plan will invest $115 billion for modernizing bridges, highways, roads and streets most in need.
And for Iowa, that would bring significant relief, according to the Director of Bridges and Structures Bureau at the Iowa Department of Transportation, James Nelson.
Iowa has a $3.6 billion five-year program for roads and bridges, and he said that from what he knows about Biden’s plan, it could provide another $100 million for bridge work.
“That’s a pretty significant increase in the amount of work we can do, and that could help us, you know, reduce the number of poor bridges we have and actually also reduce the number of fair bridges,” Nelson said.
The Federal Highway Administration now uses the terms “good, fair and poor” to refer to bridge status, partly because “structurally deficient” makes people think those bridges are unsafe.
“That is by no means what it means,” Nelson said. “It means that there’s something we’d like to repair or replace.”
And if any part of the bridge—from the drivable part to the joints or the structure underneath—is rated poor, the whole bridge gets that label.
Annually, the IDOT reviews each bridge in each district to determine if they need repair or replacement. Then they’re ranked by priority. The IDOT also does work to keep bridges from falling into disrepair.
The consequence of bridges not being maintained is that roads close and people have to drive out of their way to reach their destination. Nelson said 200 Iowa bridges have been closed and removed from the system since last year.
The most common causes for bridges deteriorating, he said, are traffic and de-icing. Neither has a ready solution.
“Bridges we have need to last longer and we do that through bridge preservation,” Nelson said. “And we need to replace more bridges than we have been doing.”
Lately, he said the focus has been on replacing bridges.
And the American Jobs Plan could give them crucial resources. Nelson said he’s looking forward to hearing more details.
“We don’t know enough at this time to know exactly how things are going to turn out,” he said. “But if we look at the past and how funding has been distributed from a bill somewhat similar to this, we would say that Biden’s plan might increase the amount of bridge funding we have by 50 percent.”
Biden has long said America’s infrastructure needs to be updated for the modern age.
“Put simply, these are investments we have to make,” Biden said. “Put another way, we can’t afford not to.”
The last time infrastructure was this big of a priority, Nelson said, was the interstate build-out under President Eisenhower.
“And those bridges are reaching the end of their service life,” Nelson said. “So I think the time is right for another major focus on infrastructure.”
by Nikoel Hytrek