Roads Less Traveled

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It is time to stick a fork in some roads and bridges. The Cedar Rapids Gazette recently had a pair of articles about Iowa’s roads and structurally deficient bridges.

Iowa’s 24,242 structurally deficient bridges are the most of any state and third highest in percent of total state bridges according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association 2016 annual bridge report. Structurally deficient does not mean the bridge will collapse when a school bus or grain truck drives over. It can simply mean the bridge deck is not wide enough to meet current standards.

The 10 cent per gallon increase in the fuel tax increase that passed in 2015 added an estimated $213 million per year to the state road use tax fund. Based on the state’s funding formula of 47.5 percent for the primary road system, 24.5 percent for secondary county roads, 20 percent for city streets, and 8 percent for farm-to-market county roads, the smallest piece of the pie is left to fix structurally deficient bridges. Perhaps Iowa does need to maintain fewer bridges and miles of roads.

In July, 2015, then Iowa Department of Transportation director Paul Trombino said he expected the state’s overbuilt and unsustainable road network to “shrink,” according to Charles Marohn of Strong Towns. Trombino also said Iowans should figure out which roads “we really want to keep” and let the others “deteriorate and go away.”

As with every other part of state government, we need a smaller and smarter transportation system. It either needs to become smaller by having fewer roads and bridges or become smarter by changing the formula to properly fund what we already have.