Metal bridge over river

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Lowering inflation pressure

March 22, 2023

Inflation continues to put pressure on infrastructure projects vital to the U.S. soybean supply chain. The rising cost of construction materials are causing improvements and new construction of bridges, roads and more to be scaled down, or in some cases, delayed altogether. Industry groups, alongside state and local agencies, are expressing concern about the short- and long-term implications potentially placed on reliable, cost-effective transportation.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC), says the high prices experienced by many Americans is not limited to grocery stores, gas stations, or your favorite local business.

“Inflation is also intruding on the cost of constructing roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects,” says Steenhoek.

According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the cost of highway and road construction materials saw an overall increase of 21% between 2021-22. A $1 million bridge replacement in 2021 cost more than $1.2 million last year. A $100 million portfolio of road construction in 2021 would’ve cost $121 million in 2022.

“While additional resources for transportation projects are being provided by the recently enacted ‘Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’ and other state and local measures, infrastructure inflation will continue to erode some of its purchasing power,” added Steenhoek.

The ARTBA further highlights the inflation over the past year among major components of transportation construction:

  • Asphalt: 56% increase
  • Concrete Block and Brick: 11% increase
  • Ready mix concrete: 9% increase
  • Machinery and equipment (mixers, pavers, and related equipment): 15% increase

Saving options

But the farmer leaders of the STC believe there are more economic ways to maintain and improve U.S. infrastructure needs, saving significant money.

Steenhoek says the STC is partnering with state soybean organizations to promote innovative methods of replacing and repairing rural bridges that:

  • Provides notable cost savings
  • Have been validated as safe by member of the engineering community
  • Widely accessible throughout rural parts of the United States.

Back in 2021, the STC published a report “Top 20 Innovations for Rural Bridge Replacement and Repair” that highlighted specific opportunities for states, counties and municipalities to maintain and improve bridge inventory while stretching taxpayer dollars further.

Now, the STC and other soybean farmer organizations are offering funding to help underwrite some of the pre-engineering and design costs of replacing or performing “major rehabilitation” on a rural bridge if one of the concepts in the report is utilized and if the bridge being replaced is located in an area in which soybeans or soy products are transported, Steenhoek says.

Some examples include:

Railroad Flat Car Bridges

  • Cost per bridge - $120,000 (vs. $275,000 - $350,000 prevailing method)
  • Cost savings: 50-60%
  • Construction time: 15-25% faster

Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil-Integrated Bridge System (GRS-IBS)

  • Cost per bridge - $250,000 - $350,000 (vs. $350,00 - $600,000 prevailing method)
  • Cost savings: 25-60%
  • Construction time: 50-75% faster

Buried Soil Structures

  • Cost per bridge - $75,000 - $95,000
  • Cost savings: 50-60%
  • Construction time: 20-25% faster

Steenhoek says in providing this funding, the STC and other soybean farmer organizations hope to provide “tangible savings for those states, counties or municipalities who partner in the project as well as further demonstrating these cost-saving concepts, resulting in greater momentum for other to utilize them in the future.

Click here to see the full “Top 20” report.

Brock Johnston and Jeff Hutton contributed to this article.