Soy Transportation Coalition releases innovative concepts for rural bridges

The Soy Transportation Coalition has released a report with innovative and cost-effective approaches to replacing or repairing rural bridges.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the coalition, says rural roads and bridges are a critical initial link in the overall supply chain.  

“We often talk a lot about the importance of freight railroads and inland waterways with locks and dams and with ports, but the reality for agriculture is if you don’t have a well-maintained system of rural roads and bridges, these other modes of transportation become irrelevant because the initial delivery won’t have been effectively conveyed,” he says. “It’s this system of rural roads and bridges that people take for granted that need to be maintained and improved. The unfortunate reality confronting rural America is that the area of the country where the condition of bridges is most severe is also the area of the country where resources are the most scarce. A significant percentage of bridges classified as deficient and subject to restricted access or closures are located in rural areas.”

He tells Brownfield one innovative approach for bridge replacement is the use of retired railroad flatcars to replace a rural short-span bridge.

“A traditional short-span bridge can easily cost $275,000-$400,000,” he says. “With the use of these railroad flatcars, you can replace a rural bridge for 100,000-$125,000.”

He says although increased investment is needed, it’s critical to address the costs of repair and replacement.

“We should not expect to spend our way out of this problem,” he says. “We want greater investment by the federal government, state government, and local government for our rural roads and bridges and we advocate for that, but I think we’re not being realistic if we expect to spend our way out of this problem. We also need to save our way out of this problem and employing some of these innovative approaches that will provide those cost savings would be an excellent way for counties to achieve that.”

The Soy Transportation Coalition assembled a group of 13 bridge engineers and experts to help develop the innovative approaches. Steenhoek says the group developed ideas that provided notable cost savings, were certified from an engineering perspective, and were accessible in rural America.

Other innovations included buried soil structures, galvanized H-piling, precast inverted tee slab span bridges, piling encasements, deck patching, epoxy deck injections, and more. 

More can be found at

Audio: Mike Steenhoek

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