Cash Market Moves

Thousands of US Bridges in Poor Condition as Repairs, Funding Lags

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Pictured is a rural bridge crossing a flooded drainage ditch that collapsed due to ice and high water on County Hwy 18 in Norman County, west of Ada, Minnesota. (Photo by Norman County Sheriff's office)

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) said in their sixth Annual Bridge Report that there are over 47,000 structurally deficient bridges in the U.S., and cars, trucks and school buses cross these compromised structures 178 million times every day. "At the current rate, it would take 80 years to fix all of the nation's structurally deficient bridges," noted the report.

According to ARTBA, the government classifies a bridge as "structurally deficient" if any of the main components (deck, superstructure, and/or substructure) is rated four or less on the scale.

Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director Soy Transportation Coalition (STC) made the list below the national ranking of the thirteen states that comprise the STC; both in the number and percentage of deficient bridges. "If President Trump and Congress are able to work together to produce a comprehensive infrastructure initiative, efforts to address the dilapidated condition of our rural bridges should be included," said Steenhoek.

State Total Number of Bridges Number of Deficient Bridges
1.) Iowa 24,123 4,675
4.) Illinois 26,809 2,273
5.) Missouri 24,512 2,116
11.) Ohio 27,277 1,518
13.) Nebraska 15,349 1,358
14.) Kansas 24,906 1,288
15.) Indiana 19,280 1,203
16.) Michigan 11,228 1,196
18.) Kentucky 14,368 1,016
19.) South Dakota 5,824 973
20.) Tennessee 20,177 871
24.) Minnesota 13,358 668
31.) North Dakota 4,355 469

"While STC strongly believes in the need for increased levels of investment to address our rural bridge challenge, we also believe better stewardship of taxpayer funding can be promoted," said Steenhoek. "Our bridge-testing initiative is such an example. If we have a bridge problem in this country, which we do, and if resources are scarce, which they are, then we need to do a better job with diagnosing the problem. By using bridge-testing technology, bridges receive a more data-based, objective assessment and the results are: 1.) Bridges receive a more precise rating and 2.) Counties and other local governments are able to allocate scarce resources to those bridges that are most acutely in need of repair."

Nearly 69,000 bridges across the country are "posted for load," which means there are weight restrictions or other measures in place to reduce stress on the structure, noted ARTBA.

"You will never hear me describe load testing as the solution to all our problems, but it continues to prove itself to be a helpful tool in the toolbox and can result in better decision making," said Steenhoek. "It is not applicable on every bridge or in every vicinity, but it is a validated practice that we believe should be more accessible in rural areas of the country. We also think this is a nice example of a true public-private partnership (a farmer organization and county government) that is making a difference. I think we need more examples of constituent groups and government coming together to address problems."

The STC authorized $10,000 to facilitate bridge load testing projects in each of the 13 states that comprise the organization. The total funding allocated was $130,000, noted Steenhoek. "The main stipulation is that tested bridges must be located in rural areas in which soybeans are transported. We have completed a successful project in Michigan and Indiana and have a project underway in Kansas. We continue to see momentum in other soybean-producing areas of the country."

Including structurally deficient bridges, there are nearly 235,000 bridges across the country that need structural repair, rehabilitation or replacement, according to ARTBA. The study also noted that four out of 10 U.S. bridges need to be replaced or repaired, including one in three bridges on the Interstate.

Over four out of five structurally deficient bridges are in rural areas and are smaller and relatively lightly traveled. Many span streams that can swell during a flood and become damaged or simply fail, as seen in the attached picture. Rural bridges are just as important as bridges in urban areas, as the nation's farmers use these roads to move grain to local elevators or to get to an Interstate to take their grain to market. Ranchers use rural and urban roads to move their animals to market and dairy farmers are reliant on these roads to get their milk delivered to dairies.

Without proper funding to make repairs or replacements, the condition of the nation's bridges will only get worse, compromising the safety of everyone who crosses them in urban and/or rural settings.

Here is link to a three-minute bridge testing video by the STC:…

Here is a link to the entire ARTBA report:…

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