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OUR VIEW: It’s the era of fixing bridges


A recent report on the nation’s bridges is a reminder that we’re entering a new phase in Central Iowa development. It was fun watching the showplaces take shape, but the backhoes and barriers in the streets make it clear that less glamorous work also needs to be done. Along with those sewer projects, how much will we have to spend on repairing bridges?

A report by an organization called Transportation for America makes Greater Des Moines’ situation sound awfully dire. It says 24 percent of the bridges in the metro area, or 358, are “deficient.”

The real situation might be closer to “difficult” than dire. According to the Des Moines city engineer’s office, anything built to carry traffic over a stream, another road, etc. is considered a bridge if it’s longer than 20 feet. The figures above suggest that we have about 1,500 bridges in the metro area. If that’s correct – it’s hard to imagine that many – we’re talking about a lot of bridges and box culverts on lightly used roads.

The big, busy bridges that are crucial to public safety and expensive to maintain are relatively few. For example, the city of Des Moines has just 52 traffic-carrying bridges, according to the engineer’s office.

These bridges are inspected every two years and their needs prioritized. The city spends about $3 million or more annually on bridge maintenance, repair or replacement. Each year, Des Moines uses about $2 million provided by Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, about $1 million in federal money that comes through the Iowa Department of Transportation and whatever other federal funds are available on bridge projects.

The deck replacement on the Fleur Drive bridge over the Raccoon River was one example. Next year, the Grand Avenue bridge over Walnut Creek will be replaced.

Iowans will have to spend a lot to take care of the infrastructure put in place by previous taxpayers, but in Des Moines, anyhow, the problem appears manageable.

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