Bluffton resident Zach Fromm sought details about the Bluffton Road resurfacing project during Monday’s meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, specifically when the road would be redone.
Winneshiek County Engineer Lee Bjerke said the work is scheduled for summer of 2021. He said two box culverts on the road will be extended this year. After those projects “settle,” he said the road would be torn up with a new asphalt surface installed in 2021.
In the meantime, Fromm asked what would be done to remedy some “precarious potholes” on the narrow and winding road.
Bjerke said county road workers have started patching potholes with cold asphalt mix and if that doesn’t “hold,” they’ll be repaired with a hot asphalt mix. Bjerke said the repairs would be kept to the minimum amount possible because the road will be torn up in two years.
“We’re gearing up everything toward redoing it,” he said

Bike lane, tourism
Fromm also asked the Board whether a bike lane had been contemplated as part of the Bluffton Road resurfacing and if grants had been sought. He said the road is popular for serious cyclists.
Bjerke said the county worked with the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) in Postville on funding for the trail from Freeport to the Trout Run Trail. He said RC&D played a “huge” role in obtaining a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant that helped fund the trail but noted the piece that was key to receiving grant funding was that the trail was for transportation not recreation -- it’s used for getting to school, work or shopping.
Bjerke said there is no space for a bike lane on the Bluffton Road. The surfaced portion of the road is 22 feet and shoulders vary from a foot to three feet at the most. To install bike lanes would require at least four feet of shoulder on each side of the road, Bjerke said.
“We don’t have the shoulder to work with to add a bike lane,” he said.
Bjerke said the entire road would need to be regraded to add a bike lane, which would double the cost of the project.
The project planned from Pole Line Road to county road A-18 is 11.5 miles and has a nearly $3.5 million price tag. Funding includes $2 million from the federal Farm to Market fund and $1.5 million from the federal Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) fund.
Supervisor Dean Thompson explained counties in Northeast Iowa have to “take turns” using the STBG funds.
Supervisor Mark Kuhn said the Board has to be responsible for how the county’s funds are spent.
“It’s (Bluffton Road) not the only road in the county. We are actually at a point we’re trying to get a whole lot of projects done and we might have to infuse local money,” he said.
Fromm said the tourism revenue generated by the Upper Iowa River in the Bluffton area should not be overlooked.
Fromm asked the supervisors how the public could access the county’s five-year road schedule, and Thompson said the county’s STBG projects are available on the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission website.

Closed bridges
Fromm also asked about the status of three bridges over the Upper Iowa River closed in the Bluffton area: the Dahly Bridge, Chimney Rock Bridge and Hutchinson Bridge.
Bjerke said Brennan Construction of Lansing is scheduled to start construction soon of the bridge that will replace the Dahly Bridge, which came down after an overloaded semi crossed it in May of 2017.
Bjerke said a bid letting for the Chimney Rock replacement will be scheduled when right- of-way easements can be obtained from property owners. He said it has been difficult obtaining all the easements because some of the property is owned by people who don’t live in the area.
The engineer said the bridge that will replace the Hutchinson Bridge will likely have to be custom designed because of the “high velocities” of the Upper Iowa River in that location.
“It’s a few years out,” he said of the project. The new bridges will be paid for with federal bridge replacement money.

Not safe
After Monday’s Board meeting, Fromm said he believes many people in the Bluffton area worry about the condition of the Bluffton Road because it’s not safe.
“At what point does the road become irreparable? There literally are spots that are dissolving since winter,” he said.
“I feel bad for the farmers who really have to go out of their way to get to where they’re going because of the bridges that are closed,” he added.
Bjerke said for years the Bluffton Road has been behind the Pole Line Road resurfacing in the county’s road schedule. The Pole Line work ended up being broken into three separate projects that have been completed.
“Bluffton has always been sitting behind Pole Line and waiting,” Bjerke said.
Bluffton Road also was behind the North Winn Road resurfacing completed last year, he said.
Fromm told Decorah Newspapers if traffic counts dictate when roads are completed, the Bluffton Road number would be skewed because motorists avoid it if possible, due to its poor condition.