Filed Under: U.S.

Iowa’s rural bridges crumbling faster than can be repaired

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Iowa has the worst bridges in the country, with more than half of them rated in either “fair” or “poor” condition. A bridge rated “poor” doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. It means that there is work to be done.

State and federal governments are spending money to address the problem.

“There’s not too many counties in the state of Iowa with bridges over $100 million,” said Brian Keierleber. “A lot of these programs are not geared towards the small local projects.”

Keierleber has been the Buchanan County engineer for 29 years. He said the big bucks go only so far.

“There’s far more need than dollars out there,” Keierleber said.

County bridges make up more than 75% of all of the bridges in Iowa. But city officials have said there’s a reason the bulk of money isn’t trickling down to them.

“Half of those bridges that are considered poor on the local agencies’ roadways only see about 35 vehicles a day or less. So it’s very low traffic. So, the cost to benefit there to replace a bridge with that low volume of traffic is very high,” said Scott Neubauer, the bridge maintenance and inspection engineer for Iowa’s Department of Transportation.

“The counties definitely have more bridges than the cities, but they definitely have the higher traffic volumes in the city,” Neubauer said.

While some funding does go toward the repair of the most expensive county bridges, the bulk goes to Iowa’s most populated cities. Counties are then left to decide which bridges make the most sense to spend local tax dollars on.

MAHMOUD BENNETT: IN PART 1 WE TALKED ABOUT HOW THE STATE OF IOWA HAS THE WORST BRIDGES IN THE COUNTRY WITH MORE THAN HALF BEING IN EITHER POOR OR FAIR CONDITION.

AND THERE’S A LOT OF MONEY BEING POURED INTO THE PROBLEM FROM BOTH THE STATE AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT – BUT WE SPOKE TO SOMEONE WHO SAYS THE BIG BUCKS ONLY GO SO FAR

BRIAN P. KEIERLEBER | BUCHANAN COUNTY ENGINEER: “Well, there’s not too many counties in the state of Iowa with bridges over 100 million dollars. – So a lot of these programs are not geared towards the small local projects.”

BENNETT: COUNTY BRIDGES MAKE UP MORE THAN 75% OF ALL THE BRIDGES IN IOWA – BUT CITY OFFICIALS SAY THERE’S A REASON THE BULK OF MONEY ISN’T TRICKLING DOWN TO THEM.

SCOTT NEUBAUER | BRIDGE MAINTENANCE AND INSPECTION ENGINEER, IOWA DOT: “Half of those bridges that are considered poor on the local agencies’ roadways only see 35 vehicles a day or less. so it’s very low traffic. so, the cost to benefit there to replace a bridge with that low volume of traffic is very high.”

BENNETT: THIS COULD EXPLAIN WHY IT’S SO HARD FOR IOWA TO WIPE ITS STATUS AS HAVING THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF BAD BRIDGES

NEUBAUER: “The counties definitely have more bridges than the cities. … but they definitely have the higher traffic volumes in the city anyway.”

WHILE SOME FUNDING DOES GO TOWARD THE REPAIR OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE COUNTY BRIDGES THE BULK GOES TO IOWA’S MOST POPULATED CITIES – COUNTIES ARE THEN LEFT TO DECIDE WHICH BRIDGES MAKE THE MOST SENSE TO SPEND LOCAL TAX DOLLARS ON.

KEIERLEBER: “There’s far more needs than there are dollars out there.”

SO POOR BRIDGES ACROSS THE STATE REMAIN  – AND WHILE OFFICIALS SAY THEY’RE NOT NECESSARILY UNSAFE ONE OFFICIAL ON THE COUNTY LEVEL HAS GOTTEN CREATIVE IN TAKING MATTERS INTO HIS OWN HANDS – STAY TUNED FOR THE FINAL PART OF THIS SERIES.

Iowa has the worst bridges in the country, with more than half of them rated in either “fair” or “poor” condition. A bridge rated “poor” doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. It means that there is work to be done.

State and federal governments are spending money to address the problem.

“There’s not too many counties in the state of Iowa with bridges over $100 million,” said Brian Keierleber. “A lot of these programs are not geared towards the small local projects.”

Keierleber has been the Buchanan County engineer for 29 years. He said the big bucks go only so far.

“There’s far more need than dollars out there,” Keierleber said.

County bridges make up more than 75% of all of the bridges in Iowa. But city officials have said there’s a reason the bulk of money isn’t trickling down to them.

“Half of those bridges that are considered poor on the local agencies’ roadways only see about 35 vehicles a day or less. So it’s very low traffic. So, the cost to benefit there to replace a bridge with that low volume of traffic is very high,” said Scott Neubauer, the bridge maintenance and inspection engineer for Iowa’s Department of Transportation.

“The counties definitely have more bridges than the cities, but they definitely have the higher traffic volumes in the city,” Neubauer said.

While some funding does go toward the repair of the most expensive county bridges, the bulk goes to Iowa’s most populated cities. Counties are then left to decide which bridges make the most sense to spend local tax dollars on.

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