Feb 7, 2022 - News

Labor shortage complicates Iowa's bridge recovery

A photo of a bridge in Des Moines.
The Walnut Street Bridge in downtown Des Moines earlier this month. Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services

Labor shortages are complicating Iowa’s efforts to lift its ranking as having some of the nation's worst bridges, multiple sources told Axios last week.

Why it matters: Bridges can be public safety issues, as illustrated by a recent bridge collapse in Pittsburgh.

Zoom in: A Second Avenue bridge project goes before the Des Moines City Council for approval today with a bid of nearly $10 million.

  • That's $2.5 million above the city's December estimate. Only one company bid for the job.
  • Rebidding is unlikely to change the outcome because of labor shortages made worse by high statewide demand for bridge contractors, city engineer Steve Naber told Axios.

Of note: There were no bids in December for one of the first pieces of the $125 million Iowa Confluence Water Trails (ICON) project.

A photo of a Des Moines bridge.
About 20,000 vehicles travel this four-lane bridge at Second Avenue and the Des Moines River each day. One lane of traffic in each direction would remain open during a rehab that could begin in coming months and continue until fall 2023. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

State of play: Nearly 4,500 Iowa bridges are in poor condition, according to an Iowa Department of Transportation report released last year.

  • DSM has allocated tens of millions of dollars to bridge repairs in recent years. Its structurally deficient structures are either fixed or in design and construction phases, Naber said.

The big picture: There were 337,000 unfilled construction jobs as of December, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released last week.

  • Don't expect the shortages to end anytime soon, partly because federal allocations for infrastructure are increasing construction demands, Ben Hammes, a spokesperson for Master Builders of Iowa told Axios.
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