40 bridges deficientSix Washington County bridges are closed
Last week a report about the nation’s bridges from the group Transportation for America said one in nine bridges in the United States are structurally deficient.
Transportation for America is a coalition of organizations and public officials from Washington, D.C.
According to their 2013 report, Iowa is ranked as third worst, with an average of 21.2 percent of its bridges or 5,191 as structurally deficient. This is compared with the national average of 11 percent.
However, the report said the total of Iowa’s deficient bridges has decreased from 5,440 in 2011 to 5,191 in 2013, which is a difference of 249 bridges.
Washington County engineer Jacob Thorius said he isn’t surprised about the survey’s results. He said based on other reviews the state has done, the bridges in Iowa haven’t been ranked very well.
Thorius estimates Washington County to have roughly 200 bridges. Of those 200 bridges, 40 are deemed to be structurally deficient.
“A structurally deficient bridge is one that’s needing significant maintenance, attention, rehabilitation, or replacement,” Thorius said. “It’s not unsafe for the public to be on. It just may reduce the weight load that can be on there.”
The legal weight load of a bridge is 40 tons. For some of these structurally deficient bridges the weight loads are reduced to 20 or 30 tons, Thorius said.
The last resort for the engineering department is to close bridges down. Currently, six of the 40 bridges that are structurally deficient are closed, Thorius said. He didn’t say which ones but said safety played a factor in closing them.
Washington County has to comply with federal law when it comes to bridge inspections. Federal law requires inspections of the bridges every two years, Thorius said. Washington County has Calhoun Burns and Associates of West Des Moines do the inspections, and then a report is sent to the engineer’s office. From there the county decides which bridges need repairing.
“It’s done on a case-by-case system and what the impact of closing that bridge will have on the traffic flow,” Thorius said.
Thorius had hoped the state gas tax increase would have helped with road maintenance but it wasn’t approved in the recent legislative session, Thorius said.
“If the state gas tax was increased by 10 cents Washington County would have received between $400,000 and $600,000,” Thorius said. “You would pay roughly $50 more a year to improve your roads.”
Without the state gas tax increase the county engineering department will continue to run on its budget of $5 to $6 million a year, an estimated $1.8 million of this comes from property taxes, Thorius said. Thorius said he spends rougly $1.5 million on rock for the rural roads and $200,000 for the blading of those roads. The rest is left for projects, such as bridge repair.
In the end this doesn’t leave the engineering department with a lot of money to work with when it comes to the bridges.
“We’ve got 40 bridges I would like repaired and fixed to keep our system whole to help reduce the impacts on our traveling public,” he said. “Until funding is increased, that’s not going to happen.”