The Nebraska Legislature’s Transportation Committee is hearing testimony on an interim study of the problem.
Saunders County Highway Superintendent Steve Mika says his county has more than 400 bridges and more than 100 of them had to be closed following new bridge inspection rules issued in 2008.
“Average cost of these bridges are $300-350,000 a piece,” Mika says. “Most of these bridges in the past were being replaced or repaired, the majority of it was by local funds. We also have several bridges that are below the sufficiency rating are in place to be replaced.”
Mika says the county has slowly been able to replace bridges, but still has 19 of them closed on major county roads, and about a dozen on minimum-maintenance roads. In some cases, he says bridges can be replaced with large box culverts.
“Getting around these roads for harvest or planting, that’s a real challenge in trying to keep these bridges open,” Mika says. “Even the ones that are open are low tonnage and need to be replaced or upgraded in order to accommodate the farm equipment.”
Larry Dix, executive director for the Nebraska Association of County Officials, says counties are doing as much as they can to keep bridges and roads open, at a time when public sentiment against higher property taxes is growing.
Dix says Saunders County leaders, in particular, are in a tough spot. If Saunders County officials said there are 10 bridges that need to be replaced, each costing $300,000, and if they voted to increase the tax rate 10 cents, “we would immediately have recall petitions out,” Dix says.
Jay Rempe, a vice president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, says there’s no easy answer. He said having a good infrastructure is critical for the state’s agriculture industry. Rempe says the Farm Bureau continues to hear from members about bridges being closed and the difficulty they pose.
“Those that have been closed, those that the weight limits have been reduced, farm equipment is getting bigger, wider, heavier,” Rempe says. “More and more trucks are running on those roads. Farmers have invested in trucks. We have a lot more grain moving because of our ethanol industry and others by trucks and those county bridges come more and more into play.”
One engineering consultant for several counties estimates the cost to replace or upgrade all substandard bridges in Nebraska could exceed $2-billion.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice