Staying on Top

Iowa Bridge and Culvert

IBC began in 1946 and expanded in the 1980s by opening up an office in Texas. Burge Hammond started working summers with the company in 1986. At the time, he was going to college to earn a degree in civil engineering.

“I actually worked somewhere else for a couple of years and then Kenny Hanson called to say that they needed an engineer, so I started in September of 1986 full time, and I am now the vice president,” shares Mr. Hammond. Although Kenny was bought out in 2011, he is still the company’s president and maintains some control over its affairs.

The majority of IBC’s work performed today is on bridges. The company also creates cast-in-place culverts and free-cast culverts. Mr. Hammond emphasizes that the company is particularly proficient at the cast-in-place culverts. In Iowa, thirty percent of IBC’s business concentrates on culvert work and approx seventy percent on bridges. IBC also does a lot of steam tunnel work for the University of Iowa, along with structures like pump stations and waste water treatment plants.

“We consider ourselves diverse for the most part,” explains Mr. Hammond. “We can do a little bit of everything, but we stay mainly with structural concrete. We can do paving, but usually sub that out.” Other areas in which it will use subcontractors include erosion control and traffic control. IBC performs the bulk of culvert work including the excavation for the structure, rebar installation, the concrete pouring and backfill. “We can self perform one hundred percent of the bridge structure, but sometimes we are limited because of the DBE requirements.”

DBEs or Disadvantaged Business Enterprises are also known as a MBEs or Minority Business Enterprises and are businesses owned by women or minorities. At times, IBC is required to have a certain percentage of the contract performed by an MBE as per the contracting agencies requirements. Mr. Hammond sees the value in this, but says it can sometimes be restrictive.

Government regulations may be prohibitive in some ways, but the vast majority of work that IBC undertakes involves a government agency of some type, whether it’s federal, state or local. A set of plans and specifications is provided, outlining what needs to be built. It is usually a unit priced contract which means that every part of it can be bid on – one bid item for the structural concrete, one for reinforcing steel, one for excavation, etc. IBC determines a price and submits it to the contracting authority. Then the bids are opened and the lowest bid wins the contract.

“We try to use an educated guess for pricing. This can be dependent on what part of the U.S. the contracts are in. It is something that we are really good at. How busy is contractor X, Y, Z that we are bidding against? Where are they located? These are things that we look at to try and maximize profit.”

Requirements for safety, of course, can also be a little prohibitive, but Mr. Hammond agrees that these are absolutely necessary and justified, and IBC takes safety especially seriously.

One way that these government regulations can affect the bottom line of the business is through competition with other, smaller companies; some of the aforementioned regulations don’t affect the smaller companies as much. Mr. Hammond likens it to Obamacare where businesses must offer health insurance for employees. “If you have under fifty people [in your business] you don’t have to do that, and we are competing with companies that have less than fifty employees. They don’t have to worry about the extra expenses which impact us more than them. However, if it is a bigger contract it’s probably not an issue.”

Currently, IBC is working on the $8.9 million Mehaffey Bridge project over the Coralville Lake reservoir in Johnson County. The company is replacing the forty-eight year old bridge in a series of four stages. Two towers for the new bridge have been constructed in the lake on each side of the existing structure – which still has traffic flowing in two lanes – and work has begun on the support structure for the new bridge deck. Once that has been constructed, traffic will be transferred to the new section and work begun on the old bridge. Some of the piers of the existing bridge will be removed to widen the boating channel.

“There will be traffic control at either end, and then, while we demo, the other bridge is right next to and underneath the bridge we are building before we build the rest of it. It’s really a very unique project, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” The project started in April of 2013 but widespread flooding halted construction for a few months. It is scheduled for completion in November of this year and the hope is to finish on schedule despite the setback.

Another interesting project was just completed on the east bank of the Des Moines River in Iowa. It is something called a gatewell structure. This is either a concrete box-like structure found on the river side of a levee and can be either cast-in-place or precast. The gatewell’s control gate discharges excess water from the interior side of the levee to the river side through a pipe at its base and is closed during flood conditions. “So that was a pretty interesting and neat project.”

As to the future of the company and the broader industry, Mr. Hammond feels there is a fair bit of uncertainty in the political environment at present. Sixty to seventy percent of IBC’s work comes from the federal government and the uncertainty stems from the fact that the highway trust fund becomes insolvent in October of this year. “Right now Iowa is extremely busy,” he shares. “We have a lot of work where other states are pretty quiet. We don’t really have any plans to expand a whole lot; we did, however, buy a company out three years ago. They were a competitor, and we added three crews from them and some equipment.” Five years ago the team also began working in Arkansas, a sizable expansion.

Content with its place in the market, yet always open to new opportunities, Iowa Bridge & Culvert seems to be charting a strong and clear path for itself. As Mr. Hammond articulates, “It’s smooth sailing ahead.”

July 17, 2018, 7:24 AM EDT

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