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Infrastructure Upgrade Ahead? Here’s Hoping


Rural America should take some encouragement that President-elect Donald Trump could invest in the nation’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges in rural areas, the head of the Soy Transportation Coalition said on Tuesday. This would be good news for agriculture as the industry deals with several different transportation-related challenges.

In a presentation at the 2016 Fertilizer Outlook and Technology Conference on Tuesday, Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition based in Ankeny, Iowa, said infrastructure could be important for early in the new Trump presidency to “get a win” with the country so divided after the heated election. Unlike most political topics today, investing in the nation’s infrastructure could be one area in which bipartisan support could be obtained, Steenhoek said.

“He understands construction, building hotels and golf courses,” Steenhoek said. “It makes sense and he could point to tangible results.”

INVESTMENTS IN RURAL AREAS

Steenhoek pointed out rural America propelled Trump to the win in the election and any infrastructure improvements must include investments made in rural areas. This would include rural roads and highways as well as waterways that move agricultural freight, he said.

As in many different political issues, there is a deep rural/urban divide when it comes to improving the country’s infrastructure. Steenhoek said he sees urban resentment of investments in rural areas when upgrades are also needed in metro areas.

Investing in rural infrastructure creates a ripple effect which also benefits urban areas, he said.

“Companies in urban areas will ebb and flow on the failure and success of rural infrastructure investments,” he said. “It is just a challenge to get all to see this.”

Transportation costs should be important to the nation’s farmers as they produce soybeans that are more competitive on the world market because of lower transportation costs. Brazil may have lower costs of production in bean production, but the U.S. is competitive on the world market because of lower transportation costs, he said.

The ag infrastructure system has a long laundry list of challenges. The trucking industry is facing a severe driver shortage, rail faced its own issues a few years moving both grain and fertilizer, and aging inland waterways need investments to maintain existing locks and dams.

BETTER TRANSPORTATION EFFICIENCY

Steenhoek said agriculture needs improved transportation efficiency and one possible solution was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year with the “Safe Trucking Act.” This would have allowed trucks with six axles to haul 91,000 pounds compared to trucks with five axles to haul 80,000 pounds currently.

This act would have allowed trucks to haul 137 bushels more of soybeans and wheat and 146 more bushels of corn. In addition, with the additional axle braking trucks would be able to stop one foot less with 308 pounds less per tire, he said.

This legislation would have allowed for fewer trucks on the road, fewer gallons of fuel used and lower carbon emissions with fewer trucks, he said. However, the bill was defeated by those who believed heavier trucks would create a public safety dilemma.

“Sometimes it is easier to frighten than to persuade,” he said.

ATTENTION FOR RURAL BRIDGES

Steenhoek also touched on issues facing aging rural bridges. Farmers often have to avoid crossing rural bridges because of weight limits. These detours often add more miles to a trip and cost to farmers moving both grain and livestock to market.

His group is pushing rural counties to use new technologies to assess the viability of bridges instead of using visual assessment of these structures, which is sometimes questionable. Sensors can be put on these bridges to truly see what kind of condition they are in, he said.

“Rural roads and bridges are two areas which seems to receive the least amount of attention,” Steenhoek said.

Source: Russ Quinn, DTN

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