Road Closed infrastructure

From railways and roads to drinking water and energy, the systems Iowans depend on are only mediocre and need attention, according to a report released May 2 by a national professional organization.

The American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2019 Report Card for Iowa’s Infrastructure, which grades the state in a dozen categories. The last report was in 2015.

Efforts to repair the state’s aging infrastructure have proved somewhat successful, as the group increased Iowa’s overall grade from a C- in 2015 to a C this year.

“I know it sounds like obviously not the grade we would want, but there certainly are a number of real positive movements here,” said Aaron Moniza, advocacy chair of ASCE Iowa Section.

Moniza noted Iowa’s roads climbed from a C- in 2015 to a C+ this year. A 10-cent fuel tax increase in 2015 helped funnel more dollars into short-term road needs, but isn’t a long-term fix, he added.

The civil engineers’ report grades infrastructure on capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation.

Moniza said grades are generated using technical reports from federal and state entities, as well as interviews and data collection.

The report identifies a B grade as infrastructure that is adequate for now. A D grade indicates it is in poor condition and at risk. Statewide categories that saw improvements include:

  • Energy: from a C to a C+
  • Inland waterways: from a D to a D+
  • Levees: from a C- to a C
  • Rail: from a C to a C+
  • Roads: from a C- to a C+.

Iowa’s drinking water system, however, fell from a C+ to a C, and solid waste handling dropped from a B+ to a B.

Grades for aviation, (C-), bridges (D+), dams (D) and wastewater (C-) remained unchanged.

Here are the some of the association’s recommendations:

Bridges

Iowa remains first in the nation for proportion of structurally deficient bridges, with nearly 20% last year. The 2015 fuel tax increase aims to address critical highway and bridge needs, but the report notes that significant portions of the system must be addressed.

Recommendations: Maintain focus on bridge repair or replacement; adjust state funding to meet inflation; and make sure electric vehicles pay their share of road taxes.

Drinking water

While Iowa’s drinking water infrastructure is in fair condition and funding appears sufficient, more revenue is needed to replace systems and build modern treatment plants. More than half the state’s municipal systems are at least 50 years old, with some pipes more than 100 years old.

Recommendations: Surface water contaminants need source mitigation or treatment, and additional funding programs could be made available to treatment plant upgrades.

Inland waterways

The Upper Mississippi River and Missouri River waterways contribute more than $4.3 billion in revenue to Iowa’s economy, supporting about 26,000 jobs. But an aging system of locks and dams threatens the industry. The average lock and dam is 30 years beyond the original life span.

Recommendations: Consider user fees for non-navigational and recreational river users; increase funding for upgrades and push for federal legislation aimed at rebuilding the lock and dam system.

Levees

Nearly 750 miles of levee exist in Iowa, with several cities receiving funding over the last decade so they can better manage major storm events. Meanwhile, rural areas have struggled to receive funding.

While most levees are functioning, the report notes serious concerns about levee stability during large flood events.

Recommendations: Standardize national inspection and design requirements for levees and provide reliable funding sources for new construction and improvements to existing levees.

Rail

In 2017, railroads operating in Iowa spent about $205 million to maintain and improve rail infrastructure. Limited freight and passenger rail access could inhibit long-term growth, and increased investment will be necessary to sustain current service, as well as added capacity.

Recommendations: Promote rail safety, support the development or enhancement of rail industrial projects or intermodal facilities and expand, when necessary, passenger rail services.

Roads

Iowa has nearly 115,000 miles of public roadway, and 2015’s 10-cent fuel tax increase was a much-needed source of short-term revenue to address an aging network. Nearly 30% of Iowa’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and 15% of Iowa’s rural roads are in poor condition.

The projected shortfall to meet Iowa’s roadway system needs has been estimated at $32.5 billion over the next 20 years.

Recommendations: Advance interstate priority projects, index fuel tax rates to inflation and lead in planning for automated vehicles.