Transportation officials are cautiously optimistic that an injection of federal aid could bring overdue repairs to area bridges.
Chandra Ravada is director of transportation for Regional Planning Affiliation 8, which oversees transportation improvements and maintenance in Clinton, Delaware, Dubuque and Jackson counties. Details are still being ironed out in Washington DC and Des Moines, but he and others hope the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress last fall will move some forward. projects in their calendars.
“We are waiting for official numbers,” Ravada said. “Then we will work with cities and counties ‘to update construction plans, if necessary.’
Also known as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the measure’s $110 billion for highway projects could double federal funding for bridge repairs in Iowa.
That would amount to $86 million a year through 2026, though spending priorities are still being determined.
“Will counties see funding double? It’s a bit premature to say that,” said Stuart Anderson, director of transportation development for the Iowa Department of Transportation. “It’s safe to say there will be a significant increase in bridge funding.
RPA8 manages approximately $2.4 million this year in federal transportation funds for its member counties.
“That amount will change now,” Ravada said. “It’s going to go up”
How much and where the extra money will be spent is still being worked out.
“We are working on an update” which should be completed in May, Ravada said. “It’s a five-year-old plan.”
The current plan calls for 10 bridge replacements and one bridge deck replacement over the next four years, Ravada said.
The Federal Highway Administration counts 4,571 bridges in Iowa, or about 19% of the state’s total, as structurally deficient, with at least one key structural element in poor condition or worse. This is the second highest share of defective bridges in the country, behind only West Virginia.
Iowa, Illinois, and the federal government share responsibility for maintaining Clinton’s two bridges over the Mississippi River. Repairs this year to the U.S. Highway 30 span, found to be in poor condition and structurally deficient, should address those issues, said Sam Shea, regional transportation planner for the Iowa Department of Transportation.
“The structural deficiency is going to be corrected with the repair this year,” Shea said. “We think we will recover it” from the list of deficient structures.
Both bridges are scheduled for $2 million in maintenance this year, Anderson said, with the costs split between Iowa and Illinois. Shea said work will be timed to ensure both spans are not closed or restricted at the same time.
Both bridges will undergo routine annual maintenance, with the Route 136 span also receiving a new layer of pavement. This bridge is listed in acceptable condition on IDOT’s inventory.
Federal money for bridge repairs will be allocated to states based on their number of substandard bridges, Anderson said. IDOT is conferring with county officials and regional planning agencies to determine the amount to be passed on.
“We have a lot of bridges that are in poor condition, but most of them are on the county road system,” Anderson said.
The repair and replacement of this year’s bridges are already determined. Counties, cities and regional planners are working on budgets and schedules for the fiscal year that begins in July. The prospect of increased funding also leads them to consider working for the following years.
“Clinton County is in pretty good shape when it comes to its bridges because the county has had its own bridge team for over 30 years,” County Engineer Todd Kinney wrote in an email.
Clinton County is responsible for more than 300 bridges on its county roads, according to Kinney.
“Maintaining the existing system is the biggest future issue for RPA 8 members,” according to the agency’s annual transportation plan, approved in late January. “RPA 8 members will need more funding than is available to sustain the existing system for the next twenty years. The demand for road maintenance will limit the region’s ability to finance new construction projects.
The plan says the agency is responsible for maintaining 435 bridges in unincorporated areas and 27 in cities that are not part of the national highway system.
“Many of these bridges are nearing the end of their useful life and will need to be replaced within the next twenty years,” the plan says.
Repairs to even the smallest bridges can cost upwards of $100,000, with full replacements costing up to $10 million.
The bill allocates Iowa $4.3 billion for highway projects, according to Rep. Cindy Axne’s office. The West Des Moines Democrat was the only member of the Iowa congressional delegation to vote for the law. The state can also operate part of the $12.5 billion bridge replacement program that is part of the legislation.
Anderson noted that Congress has yet to appropriate the money included in the infrastructure act and that states are still awaiting guidance from the federal Department of Transportation on how other funds included in the bill can be spent. . The bill also includes $18 million a year to “improve the resilience of the road network,” which could include upgrading bridges, for example.
“There are a few programs like this where we just need more guidance,” Anderson said. “We hope to get it soon.”