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Soy Transportation Coalition joins effort to better evaluate and manage rural bridges

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Farmers in Iowa and around the country heavily rely on rural roadways to transport grain. Transporting grain on rural roadways can be difficult when county and state governments enforce load limits or shut down a bridge for replacement. A few organizations believe there is a better way to test a bridge’s capabilities.

The Soy Transportation Coalition and the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee recently partnered with the Midland County Road Commission to promote better evaluation and management of rural bridges in Michigan.

Mike Steenhoek is executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. Steenhoek says the organizations found load testing can help engineers better assess the condition of bridges.

“This technology hasn’t been widely adopted in rural areas in the county. It’s been adopted on the interstate and state highway systems. Essentially, what this “technology” can do is remove some subjectivity out of the visual inspection approach,” Steenhoek said.

Load testing requires load sensors to be applied underneath the bridge. Following installation, test loads are driven over the bridge’s two segments. The load sensors then determine a precise understanding of the bridge’s capabilities.

Steenhoek says the Soy Transportation Coalition hopes to accelerate the use of load testing on a local level throughout the United States.

“Now that we have compelling results, we have a template to help promote (load testing) in other states, particularly in areas where soybeans are significantly grown,” Steenhoek said. “This is the mode of transportation farmers rely on the most. Subsequent modes such as barge, rail and ports are important, but if you can’t get soybeans or grain from the farm to the original delivery location, then frankly, all of those subsequent modes start fading in importance.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and Iowa State University conducted a similar project several years ago. As a result, load testing technology has been implemented on the state level and local level. However, Steenhoek says his organization would like to see more widespread load testing in rural Iowa.

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