- Iowa's geographic information systems (GIS) team has made an interactive map that shows the condition and serviceability of the state's 24,140 bridges, according to Data-Smart City Solutions.
- The map was first designed to explain the condition of Iowa's bridges to state legislators during the 2017 legislative session so funds could be distributed appropriately. It then became open to the public so drivers could see information about their routes and petition for repairs.
- The GIS workers compiled the information based on inspections performed by the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT).
The Iowa DOT checked each bridge in the state, noting not just the structure's condition, but also its serviceability and the presence of restrictions. Checking for condition requires examining bridge quality based on factors such as clearances, width and traffic levels, while serviceability is a federal standard that checks functionality and structural deficiencies including an insufficient length or ability to carry loads. The DOT also identified if bridges were closed or if they had any restrictions on the types of vehicles that were able to cross them.
While many local, state and federal entities gather this type of information, few do more than post it for people to draw their own conclusions. Much of the nation's available municipal data misses the mark on being useful and easily digestible.
For example, the Federal Highway Administration posts an annual list of states' highway bridge conditions, noting how many of the total are good, fair or poor. While this is rather helpful in guiding states' overall infrastructure funding requests, it doesn't indicate exactly which projects the funding should go toward once it's acquired. Iowa's data visualization tool, however, shows the hard data in addition to pinpointing exactly which bridges are in the most need of attention. That helps both state and local officials better understand residents' needs and where best to invest infrastructure funding, rather than randomly allocating money.
For years, America's infrastructure has come under fire for not meeting quality and safety standards. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases an infrastructure report card every four years grading 16 major infrastructure categories in a standard report card format. The overall grade has been in the "D" range every assessment cycle since 1998. The data in the report is useful in a general sense — and ASCE takes it a step further than some others by outright calling for action in the form of infrastructure upgrades — but it isn't very specific to each municipality.
With a federal administration that promises to rebuild the country's failing infrastructure, municipalities could eliminate ambiguity and more solidly drive home their cases for funding by compiling more data visualizations similar to Iowa's bridge map.