Oct 1, 2021 - News
Homeless advocates question Des Moines' bridge "riprap"
Matrix riprap under a Des Moines bridge
Riprap under the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway Bridge, over the Raccoon River. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

City crews recently installed a cement-rock mixture known as "matrix riprap" underneath two Des Moines bridges vandalized by fires.

Why it matters: Homeless advocates criticized the rough surfaces on social media this week, saying it deters people from sleeping or loitering under the bridges.

  • But city leaders say bridge stabilization was the driving factor behind the projects.

How it works: The rocky material is placed along bridge foundations, and glued together — often with a cement-based grout.

Flashback: Fires under the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and University Avenue bridges damaged their structural support systems in recent years and caused about $170,000 in damages.

What they're saying: The city determined the best solution to repair the damage was to embed the rocks in concrete, city engineer Steven Naber told us yesterday.

  • Melissa O'Neil, CEO of Central Iowa Shelter & Services, told Jason in March that riprap is necessary to protect the infrastructure and public's safety.
  • City leaders aren't out to make the lives of homeless people more miserable, she said after a public meeting where the bridge problems were discussed.

Of note: DSM is launching new homeless assistance programs, including a pop-up care village that we told you about in July.


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