Fluttering down the road

MonarchA bridge is simply a way to get you over an obstacle. But can it become more than a way to get you from point A to point B?

At the Iowa DOT, our bridge designers are ratcheting up the appearance and messages you’ll see on seven bridges being rebuilt along with the expansion of Interstate 35 from Ankeny to Ames.

Monarch highway logoI-35 travels through Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Several years ago, these six states along with the Federal Highway Administration, signed a pledge to collaborate on best practices in support of pollinators. Another part of the pledge included increasing awareness of the Monarch Butterfly, including naming I-35 the Monarch Highway. This designation is intended to celebrate the amazing and iconic butterfly species and its exceptional, annual two-way migration, a critical part of which occurs along this route.

Iowa DOT’s bridge designers are a flutter

When the project to increase the number of lanes on I-35 between Ankeny and Ames was in the planning stages, designers knew seven overhead bridges would need to be replaced to accommodate the wider roadway. This happened about the same time the Monarch Highway name was bestowed on the road, sparking an idea in the brain of aesthetics designer Kimball Olson.

Olson said, “We knew we wanted to do something to celebrate the Monarch Highway on this key stretch of Interstate 35 and to turn that symbolic idea into a physical one if we could. We had used specific brick patterns to tell a story in the flyover bridge from I-35 to U.S. 30 in Ames, so I knew something special was also possible on these bridges.”

Pier bridge pattern
You'll see this pattern on the new bridge over I-35 at the Elkhart exit in Central Iowa.

What Olson designed is an effect that will be dramatic without a significant increase in the cost of the bridges. Using veneer brickwork on each central supporting pier of those new bridges, snippets of the Monarch butterfly’s wing pattern will be illustrated for interstate travelers.

All seven bridges
As the seven bridges are built along I-35 between Ankeny and Ames, you'll notice the bridge piers will each have a unique "butterfly wing" pattern designed into the brickwork.

Olson explained, “Using colored bricks instead of paint to portray individual butterfly wing scales enables that dramatic effect sustainably. There’s virtually no maintenance once the bricks are in place.”

In addition, when you drive down the road, you’ll catch a glimpse of binary code, the zeros and ones of common computer language, on the west and east ends of the bridges for both northbound and southbound I-35 through a sort of “binary caterpillar” font. When you put this code together, the code spells out “Monarch Highway.” Abutment bridge pattern

Monarch and bode

The first of these bridges is set to open this week on County Road F-22 (126th Avenue) over I-35 near Elkhart in Central Iowa. The other six bridges will be constructed over the next six or seven years. 


These bridges will serve travelers for many generations and the low-cost, low-maintenance touches will serve as a way to keep the idea of the Monarch Highway in people’s minds for decades.

Are you going to plant milkweed along the road ditches and shoulders to help Monarch’s to thrive?

Thanks for the ideas Kent!

Recreate the state flag of Iowa in any 3 brickwork columns. Our logo could also be added and enlarged so people could be reminded of it.

Also or state rock is the geode. There would be some interesting graphics you could create of the inside of a geode and even add textured paint that could subtlety reflect sunlight and headlights.

Lastly, new state logo could be reproduced as a sunrise or sunset motif.

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