JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Keeping rural roads and bridges in good condition can be a challenge in Missouri, but widespread flooding made things more difficult this year and going forward.
Samantha Davis, Missouri Corn Growers Association director of public policy, says a report from the Missouri Department of Transportation shows the broad impact of flood damage for roads in the state.
“There are over 400 roads with sustained damage from flooding this spring, and a lot of those are agricultural areas,” she says.
Davis says overall, rural road conditions can vary a lot.
“It’s a mixed bag,” she says.
Mike Steenhoek, with the Soy Transportation Coalition, says rural roads and bridges often are not fully appreciated as part of the crop-moving infrastructure picture. He says a lot of infrastructure efforts are focused on rail and locks and dams, but it starts with roads.
“Unfortunately, our rural roads and bridges really are the least appreciated mode of transportation that farmers rely on to get their crops to markets,” he says.
Steenhoek says many rural roads and bridges need more maintenance and upgrades.
“You have many rural roads and bridges that are similar to what my father experienced growing up on a farm in central Iowa in the ‘50s,” he says.
Part of the challenge is rural areas that are “stagnant or in decline in population,” Steenhoek says, which often means funding cannot keep up with the needs of the area.
Then this year brought the unique challenge of flood conditions and heavy rain.
“A lot of county government entities were struggling to keep up,” Steenhoek says.
Davis says there is some good news on government funding of roads and bridges in Missouri, in particular bridge repairs. The state was able to secure a federal
INFRA grant to replace a key bridge along Interstate 70 at Rocheport. As a result of that grant, the state is issuing bonds to raise $301 million for improving or replacing 215 bridges in the state.
The $301 million in funding was contingent on securing the federal INFRA grant. This spring, the state legislature also authorized $50 million from the General Revenue fund for roads and bridges.
On Aug. 27, the Missouri Department of Transportation received additional funding of $20.7 million through the Fixing Access to Rural Missouri (FARM) bridge program to replace bridges in rural north Missouri.
Davis says it is an important issue for farmers, especially with harvest season approaching.
Having more funding for roads and bridges is a good thing, Davis says, but it does not fully solve the issue.
“Transportation funding has been a huge issue the last few years,” she says. “It’s great to have these funds for bridges, but it’s not a silver bullet, it’s not going to solve all of our problems.”
Steenhoek says “there is no substitute for funding,” but it is also important to make sure dollars go as far as possible.
Efficiency is crucial, and technology can help with that, he says.
“We want to increase the use of bridge test load equipment,” he says. “You get real data that will tell you how this bridge is performing in a
Steenhoek says the bridge testing equipment is reliable and more accurate than simple visual inspections that are often used to determine weight restrictions on bridges. He says the technology was used to test three bridges in Michigan, and they were able to remove load restrictions.
“We can focus resources on bridges that really are problematic,” he says.
Steenhoek says bridge closures, damaged roads and bridges with lower weight limits cause problems that add up for farmers, especially when they might be spending a dollar or $1.50 a mile transporting grain. Even a five- or seven-mile detour can cause extra costs that add up over time, he says.
“If farming had wide profit margins, this wouldn’t be that important,” he says. “But farming is a narrow profit margin business. The farmers who succeed are the ones who are able to trim cents per bushel off their costs.”