On Tuesday, April 11th, the Iowa section of ASCE released the 2023 Report Card for Iowa’s Infrastructure in Des Moines. The report card included 13 infrastructure categories, and overall, Iowa earned a grade of “C, ” the same grade as the 2019 Iowa state report card.
A “C” grade means Iowa’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition and requires attention. But it is one step ahead of the national “C-” average in the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Civil engineers graded Iowa’s aviation (C-), bridges (D+), dams (D), drinking water (C), energy (C+), inland waterways (D+), levees (C), public parks (C), rail (C+), roads (B-), solid waste (B-), stormwater (D+), and wastewater (C-). Nine of the 13 categories in the Iowa report card have better grades than the national report card.
The release event was held at the Capitol Rotunda in Des Moines and included leadership of the Iowa section of ASCE and ASCE President-Elect Marsia Geldert-Murphey, PE.
More than a dozen civil engineers from across Iowa worked over the last year to analyze public information about the state’s infrastructure to come up with grades and recommendations to improve infrastructure systems across the Hawkeye state.
Some of the key findings of the report card include the efforts to improve Iowa’s transportation systems. Iowa lawmakers are seeing the results of diesel and gas tax increases passed in 2015, along with efforts to prioritize maintenance and repairs ahead of expansion projects. These efforts and money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) have helped keep Iowa’s roads and bridges afloat, but additional funding is needed to provide much-needed improvements. The effects of this limited funding are evident with Iowa’s bridges. Approximately 19% of the state’s bridges are in poor condition, the second-highest percentage in the country. However, only 30 bridges owned by the state are in poor condition. City or county governments own the remaining 4,569 bridges in poor condition. The report card recommends that local governments use funding opportunities from the IIJA and other sources to repair or replace those bridges. Iowa’s road conditions are a bright spot in the report, with only 25 percent in poor or mediocre condition, compared to the national average of 40 percent.
The report card also looks at the impact of increasing severe weather events in Iowa and how to protect vital infrastructure from extreme conditions. Floods are frequent in Iowa, with more federal disaster declarations from flooding than any other state over the last 70 years. Flood events do more than overwhelm infrastructure systems, and they also pose a danger to the state’s agricultural economy. The report recommends Iowa leaders invest in fortifying water systems for greater resilience when extreme weather conditions happen. Floods can affect many infrastructure systems, including damage to dams and levees, overwhelming wastewater systems, and putting drinking water systems in danger. Tornadoes, Derechos, and other wind events occurring more often in Iowa can also cause extensive damage to the state’s power grid, leaving homes and businesses in the dark after storms.
The report card also includes three recommendations:
- Support funding enhancements for present and future needs: Iowa’s motor fuel tax is losing value to inflation. Iowa should modify motor fuel taxes to automatically rise with inflation and direct dedicated money to locally owned bridges.
- Fortify water systems for greater resilience: Iowa sits between nationally important rivers with integral freight capacity, vital ecosystems, and powerful economic potential. Resilience can’t be addressed without greater investment in aging systems for wastewater, drinking water, stormwater, dams, and levees often under-capacity for treatment and conveyance.
- Foster inter-government and non-political organization for improved capacities: Project delivery capacity, data collection and use, and stakeholder inclusion can be improved when decision-making expands beyond traditional silos. Operational fortitude of Iowa’s energy grid, for example, could improve if local communities participated more directly in renewable power generation and storage.
Iowa ASCE members will now use their new report card to advocate for better infrastructure with local and state lawmakers.