‘It’s spring in Iowa, and the roads are soft’

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Joe Condon shows the deep ruts in Fairbanks Avenue on April 16. Road closed signs were in place to discourage anyone from driving through the stretch of road, where damage from weather earlier this year had not been repaired. After this photo was taken, a motor grader was seen grading over the area.

After heavy snows and a wet spring, some of the county’s gravel roads were in bad shape at the start of April.

One road in particular has prompted multiple complaints from a resident of rural Barnum.

Joe Condon has been attending the Webster County Board of Supervisors meetings for weeks now, complaining that Fairbanks Avenue was closed for eight weeks.

“I’ve been here complaining, they still haven’t done anything. It’s been over a month,” Condon said on April 16. “Something’s wrong, and if people don’t stand up to these people, then I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. Your insurance company is going to be called in a liability suit.”

A motor grader did grade along the road after Condon appeared before the supervisors that day, and while The Messenger was still on scene taking a look at the ruts.

Condon has several roads he can take, but Fairbanks Avenue is the most direct route to a paved road. With the road closed, he has to drive six extra miles every time he goes to Fort Dodge, he told the supervisors.

Condon said if the roads are in bad shape, someone could get hurt, or be unable to get to the hospital in an emergency.

“You haven’t taken my concerns seriously, and someday you will wish you did, and had something done with these roads better than they’re being taken care of right now,” Condon said Tuesday.

It’s not just Fairbanks Avenue. Webster County Engineer Randy Will said roads all over the county have problems, and crews are getting to them as quickly as they can.

“We need the help of Mother Nature to fix the roads. That’s the honest truth,” Will said. “We have 870 miles of granular roads, unpaved roads… Many of them are in a very soft condition.”

In fact, his office sent out a public announcement during the first week of April, asking people to use the lightest loads possible during that time as the gravels were still soft.

Fairbanks Avenue in particular is a challenge, Will said on Tuesday. The road dips beneath the railroad tracks in an underpass where water often pools. The area is also near Lizard Creek.

“The road is dipped as low as it can be to allow 14-foot loads under the bridge,” Will said. “We have been asked, can’t you tile it out? Well, no, we can’t.”

Water will pool at that level no matter how well it’s tiled, he said, whenever Lizard Creek rises.

On April 16, Condon pointed out deep tracks in the gravel, where he said county trucks had driven past, although the road was still closed then.

“You can see they have been driving through here.”

Although a grader went through that day, on Tuesday Condon said the road was still not in a state where he could drive his van through.

“They came and dumped loads in the underpass, and then nobody graded it,” Condon “Just before the weekend somebody came through and took the tops off, but I still can’t get the van through.”

“I was through there this morning, and it seemed to be a lot better than it was,” Supervisor Nick Carlson said.

Supervisor Mark Campbell said he hadn’t been out there himself, but has talked with both Will and Carlson.

“The road crew was out there, my understanding is they started working on the road to the best of their ability,” Campbell said. “They have added rock and graded, and are beginning to build up the base, so he has better access.”

It takes time to build up the roads, he said. Although they can’t be too wet, it does take some rain to firm up the loose gravel.

“We have to get some rain to firm up those roads, and get a good crown on it so they drain properly,” Campbell said.

Will said he’s happy with his team.

“I feel real comfortable. I’ve got two excellent foremen, both have been motor grader operators,” he said.

The problem is occurring all over, not just Webster County, Will said.

“It’s not an excuse,” he said. “But it is spring in Iowa, the roads are soft.”

What happens when there is a

problem with the roads?

There is a work order process when anyone has a complaint on roads, Webster County Engineer Randy Will said.

When a citizen calls the office or stops in with a concern, the office staff will pass that along to one of the two roads foremen. The foreman then provides input on what is being done, or when it was done.

“That way we have a paper trail,” Will said.

The department usually doesn’t call back to the reporting person unless they ask for a follow-up, he said. There’s a place to mark on the work order to request a call back, or a visit.