Study Ranks Iowa Fourth-worst for Bridge Conditions

February 22, 2008

The condition of Iowa’s bridges ranked fourth worst in the nation, with nearly a quarter structurally deficient, according to a study released Wednesday by a coalition of industry groups.

The study found that 21 percent of Iowa’s 5,153 bridges were structurally deficient, meaning the structures have major deterioration to decks or other major components. The label doesn’t necessarily mean a bridge isn’t safe.

Repairing or replacing the bridges would cost the state roughly $257 million a year, according to the study, prepared by TRIP, a Washington-based group comprised of insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, construction firms and labor unions that depend on highway construction for jobs.

Another 6 percent of the state’s bridges were rated as “functionally obsolete,” meaning they were built to standards no longer in use for highway construction.

Only Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Rhode Island ranked worse than Iowa.

The study found that at current funding levels, the state will fall further behind in repairing and maintaining bridges.

“Despite the tremendous needs for bridge improvements in Iowa, current state transportation funding is insufficient to reduce the number of deficient bridges in the state,” said Carolyn Bonifas, an analyst for TRIP. “In fact, at the current level of state spending on bridge repairs, the number of deficient bridges is likely to increase.”

Sen. Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa, said he heard similar concerns from many Iowans. Rielly, who heads the Senate Transportation Committee, will soon set off on a 10-city tour with Ankeny Sen. Larry Noble, the top Republican on the panel, to talk with citizens about transportation issues.

“I expect to hear that we have serious transportation issues,” said Rielly.

The new study follows a state study released last year that called for an additional $200 million in annual spending to repair the highway system.

Gov. Chet Culver has ruled out an increase in the gasoline tax to pay for increased road work, but legislators recently assembled a package of fee and license increases that would eventually generate about $185 million a year for the transportation infrastructure.

According to the study released Wednesday, Iowa has had enough money to repair or replace about 20 bridges a year, but that number will likely to drop to 15 this year because of soaring construction costs. Every year, another 20 to 30 state-maintained bridges will likely fall into the deficient classification.

A total of 622 bridges in the state are near the deficient rating, the study said.

“It’s time to quit studying it. It’s time to start fixing it,” said Dave Scott, a lobbyist for the Iowa Good Roads Association, a highway lobbying group. “The state must address this problem now.”

The study also identified the lowest-ranked bridge in the state, a Tama County structure on Highway 30 that was built in 1951 and carries about 4,350 vehicles a day. Number two on the list was a Hardin County bridge over the Iowa River in Highway 65 that carries 9,700 vehicles a day.

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