Illinois' rural bridge deterioration creates bigger problems than just unsightly, crumbling concrete. A study funded by the Illinois soybean checkoff finds neglected bridges in key farming regions erode the state's global economic advantages.
"Transportation underpins every aspect of the soybean industry from farms, grain elevators and soybean processors to livestock operations, food processors and export companies," says Mike Marron, soybean farmer from Fithian, Ill., and Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) assistant secretary/treasurer.
"Rural roads and bridges are the backbone of our agricultural economy. But many of them cannot accommodate the heavy loads of modern farm machinery and semi trucks. The ISA Board of Directors is investing checkoff dollars to raise awareness and support improvements to the state's transportation infrastructure," adds Marron.
More than 15 percent of Illinois bridges are deficient, according to the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Index. Deficiencies can be structural, from rust to failing roadway surfaces, or can be deemed "functionally obsolete."
Weight Limits put Heavy Burden on Economy
Previous checkoff-funded research showed deficient and obsolete bridges in Illinois can negatively affect soybean prices if farmers must transport to sales locations farther away. Recognition of such prompted the study, "Illinois Critical Bridge Assessment and Economic Impact Relative to Soybean and Soybean Product Movements," to bring attention to the value and importance of infrastructure improvements for the Illinois soybean industry.
Researchers with Informa Economics evaluated 12 bridges in 10 counties representing each crop reporting district -- Adams, Bureau, Clinton, DeKalb, Iroquois, McLean, Macoupin, Shelby and Wayne counties -- as well as Peoria because of its importance for grain origination and river staging. The researchers analyzed bridges based on the economic stimulus provided to area businesses and citizens by comparing the costs that would be incurred if the bridge was not there versus economic benefits of making repairs or upgrades.
According to the study, the combined benefits of the analyzed bridges are more than 10 times greater than the costs to repair the bridges. For each $1 invested, an average return of $10.24 would be added to the local economy as a result of the annualized cost to build and maintain the select bridges.
Closing Bridges Closes Businesses
ISA first shared the study results at a press conference in Stockland, Ill., last week at a bridge the researchers used as their main case study. The bridge over Sugar Creek connects Stockland Grain Company's main grain receiving and storage area to their rail load-out facility. The bridge was posted with a lower weight limit in 2010, which forces the elevator to nearly double their trips across. The study shows repairs to this particular bridge would deliver a 20-to-1 economic return within only a couple years.
"We have to make several extra trips across this bridge, and it doesn't just affect the Stockland facility. It affects the whole company," says Sonny Metzinger Jr., president of Stockland Grain. "If they ever close this bridge, not having access to the railroad would really handicap us."
Page 2 of 2 - Representatives from Kankakee, Beaverville & Southern Railroad (KBSR) were at the Sept. 27 press conference to share how important the bridge is to their business. With just 155 miles of track connecting to larger railroads, Stockland Grain is one of their main customers. The loss of Stockland Grain's volume would significantly affect their ability to operate. The farmers of more than 30,000 acres served by the bridge would then face limited access to soybean markets.
Better Bridges, Better for Everyone
ISA believes enhancing transportation requirements and future needs should start at the local level. Businesses and communities can highlight the value of their local infrastructures to the county public works departments and the state funding offices to elevate suspect bridges and infrastructure to higher prioritized funding status.
"We need to work with other groups to make the statewide transportation infrastructure better. The ISA board recently approved our next project focusing on bridge rehabilitation," Marron announced at the press conference. "The project is designed to help raise the priority level of bridge investments. We are ready to work with other commodity and business groups to ensure these bridges get the attention they need soon."
The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) represents more than 45,000 soybean farmers in Illinois through the state soybean checkoff and membership efforts. The checkoff funds market development, soybean production and profitability research, promotion, issues management and analysis, communications and education. Membership and advocacy efforts support Illinois soybean farmer interests in local areas, Springfield and Washington, D.C. ISA programs are designed to ensure Illinois soy is the highest quality, most dependable, sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace. For more information, visit the website www.ilsoy.org.