The Iowa Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2019 Report Card for Iowa’s Infrastructure yesterday. Twelve categories, including aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, inland waterways, levees, parks, rail, roads, solid waste and wastewater were included in this iteration. The last Report Card for Iowa’s Infrastructure was released in 2015, and the state earned an overall grade of a “C-.”
There were several important takeaways from the new set of Iowa grades. Roads, rail, levees, and inland waterways categories all saw grade increases. Many of these networks of infrastructure benefited from increased investment and improved leadership and planning. Roadways, for example, began receiving additional funding in 2015 thanks to the state legislature, which voted to increase the gas tax. Pavement condition is improving across the state, and congestion remains low. The grade went from a “C-” in 2015 to a “C+.” Inland waterways also improved; the grade went from a “D” to a “D+.” While some progress has been made toward operation and maintenance repairs to the system along Iowa’s borders, the waterways faces significant challenges. The average age of locks and dams in Iowa is 80 years old, or 30 years past their intended design life.
While the improved grade is a positive sign, Iowa faces significant challenges. Residents and businesses in the state are now grappling more frequent and intense flooding, as evidenced by the early 2019 flooding across the state. While most levees in Iowa are currently functioning adequately when exposed to normal storm flows, there are serious concerns about levee stability during major rain events, especially in rural areas. Additionally, Iowa is home to the highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the nation. Localities in particular will need a sustained focus on decreasing the structurally deficient rate in the immediate future.
In addition to assessing the infrastructure, the Iowa Section made a number of recommendations to raise the grades. The first is to prioritize improvements to aging systems and add capacity to accommodate service demand. Doing so will strengthen Iowa’s economy and keep the state competitive in an increasingly global marketplace. The second recommendation is to support innovative and sustainable funding solutions, including indexing the gas tax to inflation. Third, the Iowa Section of ASCE advises a “safety first” approach to all of Iowa’s infrastructure decisions. Integrated asset management is an important first step toward developing a foundation of safe and reliable infrastructure. Finally, proactive and innovative planning is needed to account for economic trends and to stretch limited funding.
You can read the full Iowa Report Card by visiting www.infrastructurereportcard.org/Iowa.