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Saturday, Apr. 18, 2015

Federal funding for bridge replacement to expire in 2009

Friday, April 18, 2008

Infrastructure, especially bridges need to be replaced across the state and Plymouth County is no exception.

It has approximately 460 bridges greater than 20 feet in width -- the most of any county in Iowa -- and many are in need of replacement.

Nathan Vander Plaats, Sen. Tom Harkin's aid, met with county officials Wednesday to discuss cost to repair and replace bridges in Plymouth County and a proposed measure to keep federal funding in place.

Supervisors John Schneider, Craig Anderson and Don Kass and Tom Rohe, county engineer, attended the informational meeting.

Iowa is the fourth in the nation in the number of bridges in need of repair and a federal funding program is set to expire in 2009, Vander Plaats said.

"The next opportunity for a major funding force for infrastructure is in 2010," he said.

A current federal funding program called SAFETEA-LU or Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users will expire next year.

Vander Plaats is gathering information to aid Harkin in his work to reauthorize a new Federal Highway Transportation program to provide funding for states and counties in 2010.

Schneider asked where the funds for the federal program would come from. Vander Plaats said it would be a mix of sources from the gas tax, general revenue and road taxes.

In addition to the possibility of losing federal funding, rising costs are also affecting bridge replacement and maintenance. Vander Plaats estimated a hike between 40 and 70 percent throughout the last four to five years for construction and inspection costs.

And with many rural counties losing population those expenses are going up faster than revenue is coming in, Vander Plaats said.

"We're currently pushing back projects because of funding problems," Rohe agreed.

Vander Plaats said some of the counties around the state are facing problems with bridges being structurally deficient, which means they have a load limit rating below the legal limit, or are functionally obsolete, meaning the bridge wasn't constructed to meet today's standards.

"It does not mean they are not safe," Vander Plaats said.

He asked Rohe, "What kind of damage do you see here?"

Rohe said the age of the bridges, 35 to 50 years, is one of the major issues in Plymouth County because the wooden bridges are rotting and many are not constructed at today's standards.

"We're just reaching life expectancy," Rohe said.

The engineering department tries to replace eight to 10 bridges a year, three to four with steel and concrete bridges and three to four with culverts, Rohe said.

Under the SAFETEA-LU program the county received $700,000 for 2009. With those funds Rohe said he can repair bridges meeting two qualifications: bridges with a sufficiency rating less than 50 and a traffic count above 25 vehicles a day.

"That's generally not too hard criteria to meet," Rohe said. "Most of our bridges will apply."

There are four bridge replacements scheduled for 2009 in that category, he said.

The supervisors wanted to know when and if the county would receive funding through the proposed program in 2010.

"We will start drafting it next year," Vander Plaats said of the bill. "There's no promise of anything at this point."

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