BUCHANAN COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) was so impressed with Buchanan County Engineer Brian Keierleber during a local infrastructure tour this past March that she invited U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) to Buchanan County this past Monday to see how road and bridge issues are being addressed here.
Finkenauer serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which DeFazio chairs. The two recently co-authored an op-ed regarding the nation’s infrastructure (see the October 9 Independence Bulletin Journal). In addition, Finkenauer recently introduced four bills to improve the safety of the nation’s infrastructure, strengthen flood protection, and help communities invest in key projects:
- Rural Road Safety Act: Provides federal funding for communities to make critical safety improvements. (Co-introduced with bipartisan support from Congressman Bruce Westerman, AR-04).
- Fixing America’s Bridges Act: Reestablishes a federal funding program to help repair and replace structurally deficient local bridges, many of which are owned by municipalities that have trouble affording necessary maintenance. (Co-introduced with bipartisan support from Congressman Clay Higgins, LA-03).
- Helping Communities Invest in Infrastructure Act: To cut through red tape to get federal dollars to Iowa cities and towns.
- Levee Rehabilitation Improvements Act: To help Iowa communities rehabilitate damaged levees.
Keierleber appreciates Finkenauer’s work.
“Here in Buchanan County, we’re doing everything we can to reduce traffic fatalities – and it’s working, but these projects can be expensive,” he said. “The Rural Road Safety Act will help Iowa’s rural counties get federal funding for critical road safety improvements, and I applaud Congresswoman Finkenauer for her efforts to keep all rural road users safe.”
Keierleber also appreciates financial funding for bridge projects.
“We have over a dozen bridges that we need to repair or replace – but money is tight, and we can’t afford to complete all of these critical projects without federal support,” he said.
While there are no major levees in Buchanan County, their operation on the Mississippi River has local consequences.
“Overtopped levees from this year’s flooding have created major navigation hazards on the Mississippi,” said Finkenauer. “This isn’t just bad for safety – it’s also bad for our farmers, producers, and business owners who are trying to move their goods to market efficiently. The Levee Rehabilitation Improvements Act will help ensure that our Mississippi River communities get the funding they need to do what makes sense for them. I’ll keep working with my Democrat and Republican colleagues to give Iowans a seat at the table on this important issue.”
Developing legislation begins with researching and understanding, and that’s why Finkenauer and DeFazio were here, to learn from Keierleber. Keierleber has been the Buchanan County engineer since 1993. Before that, he worked as an engineer for Palo Alto County, as well as for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a civil engineer officer and served for 14 years in various roles in Germany, Panama, and Honduras.
Keierleber is nationally and internationally known for searching for more economical means of replacing county bridges by utilizing a wide variety of materials, then sharing the information learned.
Before Monday’s tour, Finkenauer and DeFazio joined all three Buchanan County supervisors – Don Shonka, Garry Gissel, and Clayton Ohrt – for a review of bridge infrastructure issues presented by Keierleber.
In Buchanan County there are:
- 963 miles of roads
- 259 bridges over 20 feet
- 29 bridges made from repurposed railcars
- 3 bridges made from ultra-high performance concrete
- 3 modern glue/laminated bridges
- 21,000 people
- 372,000 pigs
To illustrate some of the infrastructure problems faced in Buchanan County, Keierleber showed some of the oldest bridges in use, dating back to 1860, 1872, and 1875. To put that in perspective, Keierleber reminded everyone that General Custer fought the battle of Little Big Horn in 1875.
Keierleber’s presentation went on to cover various bridge projects, many completed solely by the County’s Secondary Roads Department, and some in partnership with private industries and public universities. On one project, a business organization was so eager to field test their product that they donated the materials.
Frost boils and weight limits were also discussed. Keierleber reviewed how frost boils are formed and showed a few slides of impassable roads and equipment mired in mud. In 2018, there were five different test sections using different methods and materials to combat the boils. However, due to uncooperative weather, four applications failed; the one that appeared successful was very expensive.
In 2019, six road sections are identified for testing.
He also presented several slides of bridge collapses due to weight restrictions not being followed. Slide after slide showed tractors, grain carts, and semi-trailers dangling dangerously in creeks with spilled grain. In one dramatic shot, a tractor was at a near 90-degree vertical angle attached to a wagon with two anhydrous ammonia tanks about to tip into a stream. Had the tanks ruptured, it would have been a dangerous and expensive environmental problem.
Keierleber also talked about general road safety and was proud of the fact that, by using “best practices,” Buchanan County has reduced traffic fatalities from 21 to 12 in a 10-year timeframe. To compare, the state average is 14 fatalities/100 million vehicle miles traveled (MVMT), whereas the Buchanan County average is eight fatalities/100 MVMT.
After the presentation, most of the audience went out on a tour of some bridges to see how new materials and methods were implemented. After the tour, Shonka said he was pleased with the tour and glad the representatives were there.
“[Keierleber] is doing some very innovative work,” said Congressman DeFazio, who asked several technical questions during the slide presentation and the tour.
Congresswoman Finkenauer was also pleased to have DeFazio meet Keierleber and have him see what innovations are being tested in rural Iowa.
Keierleber later drove Finkenauer, DeFazio, and Shonka down Quasqueton Diagonal Boulevard to see the new Cedar Rock Bridge and the wood laminate pedestrian bridge. They also made stops in Quasqueton to see the Wapsipinicon Bridge and the two nearly completed bridge projects south of Quasqueton on W35.
Later in the day, Finkenauer and DeFazio led a roundtable discussion in Cedar Rapids with local labor leaders to hear how rebuilding Iowa’s infrastructure could impact workers and their families.