Jim Myers knows the bridge he uses every day is crumbling.
“I think they replaced it in the 1960s,” he said.
The bridge spans a narrow, winding creek near the intersection of 295th Street and 680th Avenue northeast of Maxwell. It is one of 74 in Story County, out of 276, deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to county engineer Darren Moon. That’s 27 percent, equal to the statewide percentage, according to a recent report release by TRIP, a Washington-based transportation organization.
All bridges are federally inspected every two years. A consultant is hired who makes the decision as to whether a bridge is deficient. Moon and his staff check more often, and also have the power to take a bridge out of service.
Funding varies, both by the size of the bridge and by the funding source, but generally the county can afford to rebuild about one bridge a year. That means some won’t be replaced. Sources of funding can include federal, state or local governments, or a combination of them. Replacing a bridge can cost several hundred thousand dollars or more.
“It’s pretty obvious we can’t keep them all maintained,” Moon said. “We’ve got to make some tough decisions on what we need. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a grid system that has good, passable roads for cars and ag equipment.”
Myers lives in Maxwell, but works at his mother’s property, which is bisected by the creek and is where he farms and raises horses.
The bridge, which Myers uses daily, allows him to head south to Iowa Highway 210. It also enables him to reach the southern half of his mother’s property.
“If they took out that bridge, we’d have to use a worse bridge over here,” he said, pointing west. “It’s too narrow; you’d never get any machines over it.”
Myers shakes his head, while lamenting what he thinks are ill-formed priorities.
“If we don’t have infrastructure in farming country, we ain’t going to have a country,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to move our products. We can go over here to Nevada where we can build that wonderful new law enforcement facility that we absolutely didn’t need, but we can’t fix a cotton-pickin’ bridge?”
Whether it is fixed will be determined in the coming months.
Moon made a presentation during the Story County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, showing photos of some of the worst of the 74 bad bridges.
“Unbelievable, isn’t it?” board chairman Rick Sanders said.
Included was a bridge, closed last month, on 250th Street at the northwest corner of Hickory Grove County Park. The park is a popular fishing and camping destination and also hosts Nevada High School cross country meets. Right now, the park is accessible only from the east.
The gravel road surface of the closed bridge bows in the middle of the approximately 20-yard span over a creek. The wooden support beams are splintering and askew, probably battered when ice masses, loosened by warmer weather, flowed down the creek.
“I think a car (passing over the bridge) could take it out,” Moon said.
A few miles south, another bridge is teetering on the brink. It is on 660th Avenue at the east edge of Maxwell. A metal strip wraps around two orange cones — one at each end and along the east side — causing drivers to move toward the middle of the bridge. Several foot-sized holes have developed in the east edge, providing a view of the creek below. Some of the concrete foundation has washed away, and an old metal road sign is wedged between the support beams and the foundation.
“That sign is essentially holding the gravel up,” Moon said.
Sanders said both of those bridges are under consideration to not be replaced.
“All of our bridges are clearly getting older, and we don’t have the resources to, long term, maintain the bridges we have,” Sanders said. “We clearly need to define at what points do we need to cross bodies of water, and let’s save those bridges and the rest of them we’ll have as long as we can, but we’re not going to spend money to bring them back up.”