A recent study funded by the Illinois soybean checkoff highlights this bridge near Stockland in Iroquois County as an example of the many failing rural bridges across the state. (Photo courtesy Illinois Soybean Association)
By Carrie Muehling
BLOOMINGTON - Farmers across Illinois are facing an extra challenge when transporting their crops due to failing bridges.
A recent study by Informa Economics did a critical analysis of bridges across Illinois, looking at the economic impact of weight restrictions and/or closures of bridges with regard to transporting grain.
"We haven't had any investment in our bridges in quite sometime now, and it seems like more and more out here in the rural communities are getting stricter weight limits imposed on them. It's affecting farmers; margins, it's affecting grain elevators' margins, it's affecting our ability to remain competitive here in Illinois," said Ron Kindred, a farmer from Atlanta, Ill. who serves as an at-large director and marketing committee chair for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA). The study was funded through Illinois soybean checkoff dollars.
One example is an Iroquois County bridge between a Stockland Grain Company elevator and the railroad track they use to load grain for transport out of the area. The grain is trucked across the one lane bridge, which was built in 1907. Because of deteriorating conditions, the bridge now has a 44,000 lb. weight restriction.
"Since that weight restriction was imposed, they have gone from 5,500 semi trucks a year to their railroad facility from the grain house to 8,000 trucks a year to haul the same number of bushels," explained Kindred. "So, it's increased their costs, it's affected the farmers' margins because they are getting a little lower bid because of the increased cost to the elevator, and it's also been a stress for the farmers in the area, because I think there are about 30,000 acres that are serviced by that bridge, so farmers are having to do lower weights as they haul grain to the elevator so it's increased their costs on the other side, too."
Closure of the bridge would mean closure of the facility, which Kindred called a travesty. ISA is trying to bring awareness of the situation and look for a better way to fund infrastructure including roads, bridges and waterways.
"We can't continue to wait around and hope that it fixes itself because we know that it won't," said Kindred.
Currently things like bridges are funded through a road tax on gasoline that comes back to communities, as well as property taxes. But Kindred said the current system is simply inadequate.
"It's not enough to keep the highways maintained with the current structure, so I don't know how they expect to ever rebuild bridges and do the waterway system with the current structure that they have," Kindred said.
The study shows that for every dollar invested in bridge construction or rehabilitation, $10 would be returned to the local economy.
"Anytime you can get a 10 to one return on your investment, it's great. It would be super for the Illinois economy, which is really struggling nowadays and it would also give a boost to the U.S. economy," said Kindred.
He said the main consideration when bridges are targeted for rehabilitation or reconstruction is public safety and access for emergency equipment and school buses.
"Those are very, very important. We don't want to minimize the importance of that," said Kindred. "But we'd also like them to consider what the farm community has to offer here and what our impact to the economy is, and how detrimental a deteriorated bridge, or especially one that is closed then we have to go out of our way 10 to 20 miles to deliver grain - it is adding cost and it is inefficient and it does affect our competitiveness and it all comes back to affecting and having an impact on the Illinois economy."
In 2010, more than 15 percent of the state's 26,000 bridges were defined as structurally inefficient or obsolete.
Carrie Muehling can be reached at email@example.com.