Fixing Iowa’s broken infrastructure

The hope is that counties can continue to make progress in fixing the state’s multiple issues

It’s no secret that Iowa ranks toward the bottom of states in the share of its bridges with serious deficiencies.

For years, at least a fifth of Iowa bridges have been rated as “structurally deficient.”

In 2017, Iowa ranked first in the nation, with more than 5,000 bridges on that list.

It is true that we have more bridges, given our robust network of roads, so it follows we might have the largest number of deficient bridges. But, at 21 percent, we also had a greater share of our bridges ranked deficient than any state in the nation except Rhode Island, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

In fact, our share of structurally deficient bridges was more than twice as high as the national average.

Structurally deficient doesn’t mean a bridge is unsafe to drive on, but it does mean the span rates poorly in some respects and is in need of improvement.

We’re not doing so bad in Scott County, where fewer than 10 percent of our bridges are rated structurally deficient. But some on the list are among the most highly traveled in the state.

The Talbot/Centennial Bridge and the Division Street bridge over Duck Creek in Davenport were on the 2017 list of deficient bridges. Between them, they carry an average of more than 50,000 vehicles a day, according to the builders association.

Meanwhile, some of our nearby rural counties have a fifth of their bridges on the list. In some counties in Iowa, it’s much higher.

Finding the money to fix these deficiencies isn’t easy, especially in a county with a small budget. The sheer number and age of county-owned bridges also makes this challenge daunting.

The state of Iowa has made a concentrated effort to clear its backlog of faulty bridges, the Quad City Times has learned.

That effort got a boost from the 10-cent gasoline tax increase that was signed into law by former Gov. Terry Branstad in 2015. In addition, state DOT officials have told us previously the I-JOBS initiative, approved under former Gov. Chet Culver, played a key role. The number of state-owned bridges rated structurally deficient nose-dived in the years after that funding was approved.

In fact, the state DOT reports that just 43 of its bridges are now structurally deficient, or about 1 percent of the total. And since 2006, the share of its deficient bridges has been cut by about 80 percent.

We think that’s pretty impressive. But we also recognize it has taken money to get the job done.

We hope that counties can make progress on their backlog, but we fear the legislature is poised to make it more difficult.

Republican lawmakers are considering a bill that would limit the ability of local government to raise property tax dollars, which no doubt would make it harder for supervisors to fix these deficient spans.

Quad-City Times,

March 19, 2019