Iowa City receives planning grant for bridge improvements

The city will use the $300,000 grant to begin planning improvements to the Burlington Street Bridge, which runs through the University of Iowa campus.


Matt Sindt

The Burlington Street bridge is seen on Oct. 16, 2022. The bridge will be improved as part of a $300,000 grant given to Johnson County.

Emily Nyberg, News Reporter

A grant from the Federal Highway Administration will allow Iowa City to begin planning improvements to the Burlington Street Bridge.

The $300,000 grant was announced in August as a part of the Bridge Investment Program created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law has created a five-year plan that will provide $350 billion to federal highway programs.

The Burlington Street Bridge, which was built in 1871 and, connects the east and west side of the University of Iowa campus. The last renovation to this bridge was in spring 2020.

As of 2020, Iowa is leading the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges with 4,504, or 18.5 percent, of state bridges in poor condition.

In an Oct. 7 press release, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said the funds are a step toward improving these conditions.

“Unfortunately, Iowa leads the nation in the overall number of structurally deficient bridges, and that’s one of the many reasons I supported the bipartisan infrastructure law,” Grassley wrote. “I’m glad to see our roads and bridges are getting the updates and improvements needed to improve travel for Iowans.”

Scott Neubauer, bridge maintenance and inspection engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation, said bridge maintenance is crucial and a frequent project in the state.

“Every bridge requires an inspection every 24 months at minimum, we base our decisions on what work we want to do on those inspections,” he said. “On the state highway system, we replace anywhere from 15 to 30 bridges a year, on average.”

Neubauer said the project will have an impact on commutes due to road closures and dentures for construction. The scale of road closure for the repairs, however, has not been determined.

“When we’re having to do bridge repair or bridge replacement, traffic is an important aspect of every project depending on what the traffic volume is and the number of trucks that are using that route,” he said. “We always want to try and keep traffic flowing as best as possible through our construction zones.”

Planning for the project to repair the Burlington Street Bridge will be done by Iowa City engineers. Afterward, the Department of Transportation will work together with the city on funding and construction matters because the state shares jurisdiction over the bridge.

The project will be overseen by Jason Havel, the City of Iowa City’s city engineer. Havel said the funds received will help the city start planning crucial improvements to the bridge.

“The city’s bridge is reaching the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced here in the next few years,” he said. “This money will help us to start the process and it’ll be focused on looking at starting our environmental review of the project area.”

Iowa City and the Department of Transportation will need additional funding for construction, Havel said. This will come from the Federal Highway Association and the Iowa gas tax.

Construction on the bridge is not set to start until 2028. Havel said the outcome of the project will be positive for downtown Iowa City.

“It’s going to be a long process and we’re working through that and there’s a lot that we still have to do as far as planning and design,” he said. “It’s an exciting project that is going to sort of transform the landscape downtown and this river crossing.”