Rural bridges awarded 18.4 million in grants

The Federal Highway Association’s is charged with providing governance to transportation across U.S. highways; this includes infrastructure in rural areas. In 2022, the Federal Highway Administration distributed grants to 23 different states for the improvement of specifically bridges, as reported by Transport Topics.

The 23 states awarded grants are part of the Bridge Investment Program, and the grants, which total $18.4 million, will fiscally support the early stages of production for bridge construction. Ten of the states in the program, and who were awarded grants, will distribute the funds to support rural bridge projects. These states are in each U.S. region and include Alaska, Arizona, California, Illinois, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the 2022 winners on Oct. 12.

“These grants will help communities across the country move forward to modernize their bridges and make it easier for people and goods to move quickly, reliably and safely to their destinations,” he said.

Highway engineer and supervisor in Gallatin County, Illinois, Justin Hastie, already has plans for how it’ll spend its $48,000 portion of the grant. The county is considering replacing a one-lane, 300-foot span bridge called the Peabody Road Bridge. It crosses the Saline River and was originally built by a coal company.

“The coal mines all closed and people around here all lost their jobs. It’s an economically depressed area,” Hastie said. “This bridge was given to the county by the coal company, but there was no money given to maintain it. Now we’re at a place where we have to try to maintain it, and our small county just doesn’t have the budget for that.”

The bridge is an integral part of the rural community, farmers use the bridge to transport corn, soybean and wheat to an unloading facility where it is then distributed throughout the Midwest. Occasionally, sand and gravel is transported across the bridge. Due to a lack of ability to continue maintenance, the posted load limit is 80,000 pounds.

If Gallatin County wasn’t awarded the $48,000 portion, the bridge would be forced to close. This would cause a 15-mile detour. And fully replacing the bridge would pose problems as well, Hastie said that could rack up a total of $5 million.

“The county just can’t take on a project like that without getting grant funding from somewhere else,” he said. “Our whole budget is less than half a million a year. It seems strange to people that come from bigger counties and bigger towns. Our whole budget is a rounding error to a lot of them.”

The total over $18 million grant will support the maintenance of rural bridges in Northern California and South Carolina, providing rural areas with the ability to support their communities.