Dear Editor:

I think we can all agree that it was an exceptional winter and are again reminded by recent late snowfall of the heavy snow melt and rain in March, which made for challenging conditions along our rivers, streams … and roads. 

In Mid-March the Sheriff’s office warned that “many of Winneshiek County’s gravel roads have become impassable to 2-wheel drive and small vehicles due to the thaw and resulting mud.” Buses and cars were getting stuck. Alternate routes or higher-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles were recommended.

It’s been four years (March 1, 2015) since the additional 10-cent gas tax went into effect in Iowa along with promises to repair our failing infrastructure with the extra revenue. (The current state/federal tax on gasoline in Iowa is 50.4 cents per gallon.) At that time the county made assurances to start reclaiming our neglected secondary roads and failing infrastructure with the extra money. Even though we realized it would take some time, we’re still waiting for this to begin in our rural areas while our gravel roads have essentially converted back to the early years when they were mostly just dirt and mud. And yes, there are some blacktop roads that aren’t much better.

A retired county road operator recently claimed to a friend that, in decades past the county applied 600 tons of rock to every mile of our gravel roads each year. Now, it was said, they put on 200 tons per mile every other year. Could it be? What we do know is that our gravel road has deteriorated to the point of black mud base showing through in many places, with at least 9 mud holes in just the first mile right now.

Our state legislators don’t want to hear about it. Our supervisors don’t want to hear about it. Our County Engineer doesn’t want to hear about it. 

We know and are told that ag traffic is heavier these days, that repair will be very expensive, that there’s no money for rock, and now there’s only one source to get it. It just seems that when we do get anything at all, the product is a low-quality, light sprinkling of fines with some pebbles tossed in and only on the “worst” spots. We are told the product meets the minimum specifications and the “fines” are needed for packing. Packing material? What little rock we’re getting seems to be mostly water soluble, and as soon as it dries, it becomes a fine powder of thick dust.

All that expensive county equipment, and the ruts, potholes, and mud wallows hardly even get filled in. There is nothing to put in them and there’s no material to bring into the middle to build a crown for the water to run off, so it ponds in the road. We don’t know what the county’s solution is, but we’ll bet the many hundreds of us who live on and/or travel over our secondary county roads would be interested in hearing what our county plans to do to improve this situation. 

Roger and Denise Uhlenhake

Rural Ossian