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Investigation: 2,300+ Nebraska, Iowa bridges left in poor condition for a decade or longer

Posted at 7:34 PM, Aug 11, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — More than a decade after the Bell Street viaduct in Fremont first fell to "poor" condition, work on the structural support of the bridge is underway.

But many more bridges that have been in poor condition for at least a decade aren't getting as much attention.

Scripps News identified more than 14,000 bridges listed in poor condition for at least a decade. The 3 News Now partner found the federal infrastructure bill won't nearly be enough to keep up. Read their investigation here.

The investigation found both Nebraska and Iowa are in the top ten for bridges that have been in poor condition for at least a decade. Iowa is first with more than 1,800, and Nebraska has 548.

Another bridge near Fremont falls on the same list. Over Elm Creek on US-77 south of town, the bridge has been in poor condition since 2009. The Nebraska Department of Transportation says it's set for replacement beginning next year.

Three bridges on US-275 between Scribner and Wisner have been in poor condition since 2009, 2010 and 2013. Two of them are under construction now, the state says, and the other will be part of a "Wisner to West Point" expected in the next five years.

A bridge carrying US-30 just west of Fremont was also identified in the investigation. It's set to get a new superstructure in 2026, the state says.

Lots of the bridges among the 14,000 don't get much traffic. Just one of those is in rural Sarpy County over Beaver Creek, with wooden planks and rusting metal support. 3 News Now caught up with Sarpy County Engineer Denny Wilson there.

The county has brought down the weight limit and made slight repairs over the years, but it's still been consistently considered to be in poor condition for years.

"We do caution people if we have a bridge that has a load rating, drive over carefully just in case something happens," Wilson said.

He says resources simply aren't unlimited. They keep a priority list.

"It's a really difficult for us to keep up with repairs or replacements on bridges," he said. "Part of that is because we have a lot of water in this area. We have lots of creeks."

Iowa, with more than 1,800 bridges in poor conditions for a decade or more, is only joined by Pennsylvania with more than 1,000.

Scott Neubauer, the Iowa Department of Transportation's bridge maintenance and inspection engineer, said mostly county and local governments struggle to keep up with the state's poor bridges.

"They have have limited funds," he said. "They've tried to best invest their money where it's most needed. And a poor bridge isn't always the most important bridge in their inventory."

He said that's because other bridges with more traffic are often prioritized.

Poor is a standardized term that means any of three components to a bridge are at a 4 or below on a 0-9 scale. He said it doesn't mean it's unsafe.

He said the federal infrastructure bill helps, but inflation has increased costs, too.

"It's helpful," he said. "But it's not something that we can all of a sudden start eliminating these poor bridges."

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