Filed Under: U.S.

Engineers pioneering quick fixes for Iowa’s crumbling rural bridges

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Iowa has the worst bridges in the country and the majority of them are in rural counties. Of Iowa’s 23,799 bridges, only about 1,200 of them reside in larger cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. And of all the bridges, more than half fall into the fair or “poor” category.

Despite local bridges often getting the short end of the stick, officials have said the worst ones are still kept in check for safety.

“They still get inspected, just like every other bridge, and are maintained to the best of their ability at the local level,” said Scott Neubauer, the bridge maintenance and inspection engineer at Iowa’s Department of Transportation.

“If a bridge is determined to be unsafe, all traffic is shut down. The counties take action on those right away and so does the state,” Neubauer said.

“There’s far more need than dollars out there,” said Brian Keierleber, the Buchanan County engineer for 29 years who manages 260 bridges. He’s pioneered some new ways to strengthen smaller structures without the big bucks.

“I currently have 32 county bridges built out of retired railroad flat cars. I’m constructing them at a fraction of the cost of what standard construction is,” Keierleber said.

As bridges continue to age and fall apart, Keierleber said they eventually get to the point where crews can’t put patches on patches.

“Looking at ways to reduce the damage the road salts are doing is really what we should be looking at,” Keierleber said.

MAHMOUD BENNETT: IN PART 2 WE TALKED ABOUT HOW THE SHEER *NUMBER* OF POOR BRIDGES IN THE MOST REMOTE PARTS OF IOWA COMPLICATES PLANS TO FUND AND FIX THE PROBLEM AS A WHOLE

BRIAN KEIERLEBER | BUCHANAN COUNTY ENGINEER: “THERE’S FAR MORE NEED THAN DOLLARS OUT THERE”

BENNETT: DESPITE LOCAL BRIDGES OFTEN GETTING THE SHORT END OF THE STICK OFFICIALS SAY THE WORST ONES ARE STILL KEPT IN CHECK FOR SAFETY.

SCOTT NEUBAUER | BRIDGE MAINTENANCE AND INSPECTION ENGINEER, IOWA DOT: “THEY STILL GET INSPECTED JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER BRIDGE AND ARE MAINTAINED TO THE BEST OF THEIR ABILITY AT THE LOCAL LEVEL.”

NEUBAUER: “IF A BRIDGE IS DETERMINED TO BE UNSAFE, ALL TRAFFIC IS SHUT DOWN. THE COUNTIES TAKE ACTION ON THOSE RIGHT AWAY AND SO DOES THE STATE TAKE ACTION ON THOSE RIGHT AWAY.”

BENNETT: BUT THEN THERE’S THIS GUY – BRIAN KEIERLEBER – HE’S AN ENGINEER WHO MANAGES 260 BRIDGES IN HIS COUNTY 

HE’S PIONEERED SOME NEW WAYS TO STRENGTHEN SMALLER STRUCTURES WITHOUT THE BIG BUCKS

KEIERLEBER: “I CURRENTLY HAVE 32 COUNTY BRIDGES BUILT OUT OF RETIRED RAILROAD FLAT CARS – I’M CONSTRUCTING THEM AT A FRACTION OF THE COST OF WHAT STANDARD CONSTRUCTION IS / WE KEEP DOING REPAIRS AND THEY KEEP GETTING OLDER AND FALLING APART LAUGH.”

KEIERLEBER: “LOOKING AT WAYS TO REDUCE THE DAMAGE THE ROAD SALTS ARE DOING IS REALLY WHAT WE SHOULD BE LOOKING AT.”

THAT’S ALL THE TIME WE HAVE FOR THIS SHORT SERIES ON IOWA’S BROKEN

Iowa has the worst bridges in the country and the majority of them are in rural counties. Of Iowa’s 23,799 bridges, only about 1,200 of them reside in larger cities like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. And of all the bridges, more than half fall into the fair or “poor” category.

Despite local bridges often getting the short end of the stick, officials have said the worst ones are still kept in check for safety.

“They still get inspected, just like every other bridge, and are maintained to the best of their ability at the local level,” said Scott Neubauer, the bridge maintenance and inspection engineer at Iowa’s Department of Transportation.

“If a bridge is determined to be unsafe, all traffic is shut down. The counties take action on those right away and so does the state,” Neubauer said.

“There’s far more need than dollars out there,” said Brian Keierleber, the Buchanan County engineer for 29 years who manages 260 bridges. He’s pioneered some new ways to strengthen smaller structures without the big bucks.

“I currently have 32 county bridges built out of retired railroad flat cars. I’m constructing them at a fraction of the cost of what standard construction is,” Keierleber said.

As bridges continue to age and fall apart, Keierleber said they eventually get to the point where crews can’t put patches on patches.

“Looking at ways to reduce the damage the road salts are doing is really what we should be looking at,” Keierleber said.

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