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Buchanan County looking for ways to address aging bridges

BUCHANAN COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) – Iowa ranks as having the worst bridges in the country by the Federal Highway Administration. County engineers across the state are trying to find a solution to fix an aging network of roads.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reports 4,670 of the state’s 24,090 bridges are in “poor” condition and nearly half rank as just “fair.”

Brian Keierleber, Buchanan County Engineer, said as trucks hauling cargo get heavier and heavier, the situation will only continue to get worse.

“Increasing the weight of the trucks makes all of these bridges deteriorate faster,” he said.

Keierleber manages nearly all of the county’s 316 bridges. He said some of them are a century old, if not older.

The FHTA rates 30 of the bridges in the county as in “poor” condition. Keierleber said bridges built decades ago simply weren’t designed with modern weight limits in mind.

“In 1964, the weight of a truck was about 74,000 pounds. Now 80,000 is currently legal and they just allowed even heavier trucks,” he said.

The heavier weights can cause cracking and damage to the supporting structure of a bridge. He said replacing all of the defective bridges at once just can’t be done financially.

“A year ago, I replaced the bridge south of here [on V62 north of Jesup]. That was about $400,000 which is about what I get in federal allocation in federal bridge funds. I have 259 bridges. One year of funding covers one bridge.”
On that budget, it is an issue that generations ahead will be dealing with.

Iowa State University is testing a new road product in Buchanan and several other counties that is more stable that gravel roads, meaning less money spent on maintaining them after heavy rains and harsh winters.

“This technology will save money and create a really good road surface,” said Bo Yang with Iowa State University.

The product is similar to oil-and-chip but uses larger rocks to add strength and is a much thicker layer. It was first used in Norway and has been tested in Minnesota and the Dakotas with success.

It uses locally available rock and road material to reduce the cost of transportation. This would result in funding being freed up to make repairs elsewhere.

If you want to see how your county or state’s bridges rank, visit this link.

Collin Dorsey

Weekend Anchor

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