Government

Linn County to spend $1 million more on rock roads this year

Tuesday forum looking for ideas on how best to manage 792-mile system

Mark Phillips, equipment operator with the Linn County Secondary Road Department, in September 2015 mows along Burr Oaks Road near Springville. The county is holding a public forum on Tuesday to talk about maintaining the county’s 792 miles of rock roads. (The Gazette file photo)
Mark Phillips, equipment operator with the Linn County Secondary Road Department, in September 2015 mows along Burr Oaks Road near Springville. The county is holding a public forum on Tuesday to talk about maintaining the county’s 792 miles of rock roads. (The Gazette file photo)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County intends to spend $1 million more this year on maintaining the county’s 792 miles of rock roads.

A hard winter sandwiched by a rainy fall and spring took a toll on the rock roads, Linn County Engineer Brad Ketels said.

“Our paved system is in a really good position right now,” he said. “So we’re kind of at the preservation mode for that right now.”

That means the county can direct an additional $1 million from its road construction budget to rock roads this year, Ketels said.

The county’s Secondary Road Department staff will be holding a public forum from 4:30 to 6:30 Tuesday at the Linn County Farm Bureau Financial Services building, 1323 Boyson Rd., Hiawatha, to talk about the rock roads. Time will be provided for questions and discussion.

The county already has been working on ways to better protect the roads, like drilling holes for drainage or pulling out bad soil and replacing it with rock when appropriate.

“One of the things that I hope is that ...(people) know we’re focused on it, that we’re making some changes,” county Supervisor Brent Oleson said. “Those things that we’re doing take time. We’re willing to try new things and different things to make that system better.”

One problem is the increased cost of the limestone rock put on the roads.

The county buys the rock from five distributors, Ketels said.

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With so much construction in the area, the cost of the rock has almost doubled in the past five years, he said.

Those prices are forcing county officials to reconsider the minimum traffic count a gravel road must have before the county turns it into a seal-coated road, which is a thin asphalt surface, Ketels said.

The minimum now is typically 400 vehicles a day, but perhaps 300 vehicles a day would be more appropriate, given the price of rock, Ketels said.

The state limits how much general fund money counties can spend on roads, and Linn County is at the maximum — 17 cents per $1,000 assessed value. The cap on the rural services fund is $3 per $1,000 assessed value on unincorporated property.

In the fiscal 2019 budget, that meant $1.9 million from the general fund and $4.6 million from the rural fund could be spent on roads.

“The state of our rock roads is getting better, but they’re not what we want them to be,” Oleson said. “I want some solutions presented by the public as well.

“I’m looking to hear — I think we’re all looking to hear — what kind of focus they would like us to have on their rock road system, knowing that we spend already everything we can on our entire system.”

no slag

In Muscatine County, the county was using slag, a byproduct of steel manufacturing, on gravel roads. Concerns were raised that the dust from it might be harming children, according to the Des Moines Register.

Ketels said Linn County has never used slag on its gravel roads and does not plan to.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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