Federal Grants Provide Lifeline to Rural Bridge Assessments

Woodson Bridge in Tehama Count, Calif.
Tehama County, Calif., will get $320,000 to determine if the 47-year-old Woodson Bridge should be fixed or replaced. (Tehama County Public Works)

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Rural bridges that carry freight are among this year’s winners of $18.4 million in federal grants awarded to states evaluating whether to refurbish aging ones or build new spans.

The Federal Highway Administration awarded planning grants for fiscal 2022 to each of 23 states under the Bridge Investment Program to pay for early phases of bridge project developments.

“These grants will help communities across the country move forward to modernize their bridges and make it easier for people and goods to move quickly, reliably and safely to their destinations,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Oct. 12 when announcing the winning projects.

Ten of the projects are for rural bridges in Alaska, Arizona, California, Illinois, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

Justin Hastie, highway engineer and supervisor for Gallatin County, Ill., said it will spend its $48,000 grant to evaluate replacing the Peabody Road Bridge, a one-lane, 300-foot span over the Saline River built by a coal company.

“The coal mines all closed and people around here all lost their jobs. It’s an economically depressed area. This bridge was given to the county by the coal company, but there was no money given to maintain it,” Hastie told Transport Topics. “Now we’re at a place where we have to try to maintain it, and our small county just doesn’t have the budget for that.”

Today, the steel structure is corroding from former coal dust hauled over the bridge, now load posted to 80,000 pounds. It is used by farmers to transport mostly corn, soybean and wheat to a large unloading facility at Shawneetown Regional Port District for distribution throughout the Midwest. Other freight moving over the bridge includes sand and gravel.


Peabody Road Bridge's deteriorating condition. (Gallatin County)

In 2017, Gallatin County contributed 42,000 tons of mostly agricultural commodities to the southeastern port district (located there and extending to Hardin County and the Shawnee National Forest. Linked to the Wabash and Ohio rivers, the port’s multimodal connections include Illinois routes 13, 141, 142 and 147.

Without repairs, a bridge closure would require a 15-mile detour. Hastie said a replacement bridge could cost more than $5 million.

“The county just can’t take on a project like that without getting grant funding from somewhere else. Our whole budget is less than half a million a year,” he said. “It seems strange to people that come from bigger counties and bigger towns. Our whole budget is a rounding error to a lot of them.”

In Northern California between Sacramento and the Oregon border, Tehama County will get $320,000 to determine if the 47-year-old Woodson Bridge (with significant scouring on one pier) should be fixed or replaced.

This bridge is one of four over the Sacramento River the county owns and maintains that are essential for distributing goods to communities and carrying freight, said Jessica Pecha, county senior civil engineer.

“The nearest river crossings are approximately 9 miles to the north, and 20 miles to the south, making this route critical to reducing vehicle miles traveled by rural residents and commercial suppliers,” she said, adding that the route connects state Route 99 to Interstate 5 providing access to the county’s only commercial truck stop in Corning.

A $720,000 grant to South Carolina Department of Transportation will allow the state to figure out what to do with 12 aging rural bridges over the Great Pee Dee River, which is threatened by outdated design standards and flooding. The bridges are of national importance to freight along the I-95 corridor in Marion and Dillon counties in the northeast corner of the state.

State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall reacted to the successful grant application. “This is another example of the SCDOT maximizing an opportunity to bring federal dollars to South Carolina to address the priorities of South Carolinians. We continue our vigorous planning and programming efforts to align federal dollars to meet our state priorities.”

During the past five years, the state has spent $15 million to repair this infrastructure due to maintenance and regional flooding costs. SCDOT noted that better bridges at that location also promote freight movements to and from Inland Port Dillon.

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