Report is not kind to Iowa's roads and bridgesResearch group says 42 percent of state roads are in poor condition; engineer says county roads are above average
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Bump, thud, bump, thud.
That is the sound your vehicle makes negotiating some of Iowa’s roads.
A report, released Wednesday from the transportation research group, TRIP, says that 42 percent of Iowa’s roads are in poor condition and 23 percent of the state’s bridges are obsolete.
While mechanics, suspension and alignment specialists may appreciate the business, it is costing motorists money. For example, TRIP says that driving on deficient roads costs the average Des Moines area motorist $1,368 annually.
Interim Washington County Engineer Clarence Perry agrees with the report to a point.
“Normally, roads in southern Iowa are in typically poorer shape than in northern Iowa,” Perry claimed. He based that claim on northern Iowa roads receiving more of the tax base than southern Iowa roads.
However, Perry said Henry County roads are better than roads in neighboring counties. “I think we’re in better shape than most counties in southern Iowa,” Perry said. “I’d say we’re a little above average.”
Perry points at a strong construction program. “I have always believed in a strong construction program,” the engineer said. “The more new construction you have, the less maintenance you have.”
He used the analogy of repairing an old bridge regarding his thoughts on a solid construction program. He said that if you replace a board on a bridge and then later replace another part, pretty soon you find you’re spending more on maintenance than it would cost to put in a new, modern structure that does not require as much maintenance.
TRIP’s report included all arterial roads and highways and on data submitted by IDOT on the condition of major state and locally-maintained highways in the state.
Some of the other highlights of the TRIP report on Iowa roads include the following.
• Iowa roadways that lack some desirable safety features, have inadequate capacity to meet travel demands or have poor pavement conditions cost the state’s residents approximately $1.9 billion annually in the form of additional vehicle operating costs, the cost of lost time and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion and traffic crashes.
• According to the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT), the state faces an annual transportation funding shortfall of $215 million in order to meet the state’s most critical public roadway needs.
• Sixty percent of Des Moines-area major locally and state-maintained urban roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
• From 2007-2011, an average of 395 people were killed in annually in Iowa traffic crashes, a total of 1,977 fatalities over the five-year period.
• The fatality rate on Iowa’s non-interstate rural roads in nearly two-and-one-half times higher than on all other roads (1.81 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on non-interstate rural roads versus 0.77 on interstates).
• More than a quarter (27 percent) of Iowa bridges are in need of repair, improvement or replacement. Twenty-two percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 5 percent are functionally obsolete.
• Iowa has the third highest share of structurally deficient bridges in the nation, behind only Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.
• Vehicle miles of travel in Iowa increased 36 percent from 1990 to 2011.
• A 2007 analysis by the Federal Highway Administration found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support approximately 27,800 jobs, including approximately 9,500 in the construction sector, approximately 4,300 jobs in industries supporting the construction sector and approximately 14,000 other jobs induced in non-construction-related sectors of the economy.
• Nineteen percent of Iowa roads are rated in fair condition and 39 percent in good condition.
• By 2030, vehicle traffic in Iowa is projected to increase another 20 percent.
The report said that growing traffic congestion, particularly in the state’s urban areas, threatens to choke commuting and commerce. The average commuter in the Des Moines metro area loses 27 hours each year stuck in congestion. Total cost of traffic congestion annually in the state, according to the report, is $360 million in lost time and wasted travel.
Roads rated in poor condition in the report may show signs of deterioration, including rutting, cracks and potholes. In some cases, poor roads can be resurfaced, but often are too deteriorated and must be reconstructed.
Roads rated in mediocre condition may show signs of significant wear and may also have some visible pavement distress. Most pavements in mediocre condition can be repaired by resurfacing, but some may need more extensive reconstruction to return them to good condition.
The report defines a bride as structurally deficient if there is significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. Structurally deficient bridges are often posted for lower weight or closed to traffic, restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including commercial trucks and emergency service vehicles
Functionally obsolete bridges are bridges that no longer meet current highway design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.
Henry County’s interim engineer (whose last day on the job was July 31) also credited a strong county secondary roads crew with helping keep the roads in shape. “I think we have a very good crew, and I say that from experience working in four counties.
That being said, Perry said he feels the county needs a staffing increase in both the engineering department and maintenance crew. He said that over the years the staff has been reduced due to attrition.
“I feel we’re understaffed,” Perry said, noting that there are only 18 employees on the maintenance crew which maintains 740 miles of roads in the county.
Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP, forewarned Iowans.
“These key transportation numbers in Iowa add up to trouble for the state’s residents in terms of deteriorated roads and bridges, reduced safety and constrained economic development,” Wilkins said. “Improving road and bridge conditions, improving traffic safety and providing a transportation system that will support economic development in Iowa will require a significant boost in state and federal funding for road, highway and bridge improvements.”
News Community Living Editor Steph Tahtinen contributed to this article.