Collaboration leads to more efficient replacement of county bridges

Standard bridgeIf there’s one thing we’ve solidified in 2020, it’s that we’re all in this together, no matter what “this” might be. Old boundaries have been broken down and new collaborations have been formed that will benefit us for generations to come.

One such collaboration between the Federal Highway Administration, Iowa Department of Transportation, and county road departments allows federal funding for new construction methods utilized on the construction of new county bridges.

Iowa’s infrastructure is aging and that is very evident in the number of county bridges in need of replacement.  Working with the FHWA Accelerated Innovation Deployment (AID) Demonstration program, Iowa DOT’s Vanessa Goetz, manager of the Iowa Highway Research Board, saw a way to improve the safety and efficiency of roads and bridges using cutting-edge materials, techniques, and technology.

The FHWA program provides funding as an incentive to help eligible groups implement and adopt innovation used in highway transportation more quickly. The Iowa DOT qualified to receive a $1 million grant with its plan to improve county bridges. The elements of the grant included "bridge bundling," ultra-high performance concrete as a joint material, and the use of pre-fabricated box beam components and other efficiencies to save time and money.

Brian Moore, Iowa’s Secondary Roads Research Engineer, has been working to get county projects in the pipeline for the federal funds. He said, “The concept of ‘bridge bundling’ in this grant is finding similar projects throughout the state that can use pre-fabricated bridge beams joined by ultra-high performance concrete. The goal was to bundle together as many bridges as possible in one contract to lower the cost.”

Bridge considerations
This project identified similar bridge projects in several counties that could essentially use the same materials to replace aging structures.
Monona County bridge
This bridge in Monona County is one of the six that will be completed this year as part of the grant program.

During the process, individual counties identified bridges in poor condition for replacement using the new box beam standards that had been developed by the Iowa Highway Research Board. Those projects were evaluated, and 14 bridges were found to be eligible. Of those 14, eight were selected to receive the materials provided for in the grant. The participating counties were then responsible to hire their own contractors for installation.

Aside from the funding, another benefit of the program is to introduce counties to technologies they may not have used before, such as ultra-high performance concrete. While the Iowa DOT has been using this durable joining compound for nearly a decade, the project gave local public agencies the opportunity to become familiar with UHPC and its many benefits including exceptional strength and durability. 

UHPC componentsReconstruction on six of the bridges will be complete by the end of 2020, with the remaining two finished in 2021. 

A series of videos highlight the building process at different sites across the state.

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