A coalition of state soybean associations is working with the Iowa D-O-T and Iowa State University on a project to improve technology used to inspect bridges. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says bridges are now visually inspected by trained engineers, but their decisions can sometimes be too conservative, leading to expensive repairs, or bridges being closed or load restricted. “The taxpayers, who actually paid for the roads and the bridges in their vicinity, no longer have full access to a system that they paid for,” Steenhoek says. “For a farmer, it can be a real cost. What would normally be a five-mile journey from the farm to the local elevator can easily become a 10- or 20- or 30-mile journey.”
Steenhoek says another problem with visual inspections is they can lead to wasting money for repairs and upkeep. “If you don’t have a clear understanding of the condition of your various bridges in your inventory, that can result in misallocation of scarce taxpayer dollars,” Steenhoek says. “This is a time when the federal government, the state government and the local government are really cash-strapped.”
Steenhoek says that’s why the coalition, the Iowa Department of Transportation and Iowa State University are embarking on this project to find ways to do more detailed analysis of bridges using advanced science. “To actually use technology that is available to evaluate bridges, that provides real data and allows engineers to make accurate decisions about their bridges,” Sheenhoek says. “We’re wanting to see this project replicated in other states like Minnesota and South Dakota and Nebraska.”
Steenhoek says a recent bridge collapse in Guthrie County highlights the need for a new inspection system. A farmer driving a tractor pulling two tanks of anhydrous ammonia was on a bridge when it collapsed. He had only minor injuries. The Soy Transportation Coalition is comprised of the American Soybean Association, the United Soybean Board and 12 state soybean boards, including the Iowa Soybean Association. The 12 states account for 80% of all soybean production in the U-S.
(Reporting by Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)