The Ottumwa Courier

January 15, 2014

Road negotiations a concern in VB County

By RUSTY EBERT
Courier correspondent

---- — KEOSAUQUA — Negotiations have begun between Van Buren County and the Iowa DOT concerning the transfer of jurisdiction of Highway 98, which is from Leando to Highway 16. One Van Buren County supervisor said Monday he would like to see the state pay the county $1.5 million per mile.

A representative of the Iowa Department of Transportation, Jim Armstrong, was present at the supervisors' meeting Monday morning to discuss the issue. Also present was Jeff Owen. Armstrong is District No. 5 Engineer for the Iowa DOT. This district covers 20 counties in southeast Iowa. Owen is district No. 5 maintenance manager.

“We see this as an opportunity for Van Buren County,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong said the last time the DOT transferred a state highway (No.15) to Van Buren County, Highway 98 was also considered.

“At that time, Van Buren County had a deep concern over the condition of the Des Moines River bridge at Douds,” Armstrong said. “We understood. It had no redundant features, so a failure of one piece meant a complete failure.”

Since then, the DOT has begun the process of replacing it.

“We will spend $6 million to replace the bridge, and we leave an investment there for the county,” Armstrong said. The bridge also has the capacity to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Armstrong was asked about the life expectancy of the bridge.

“We always talk about the life expectancy of a bridge as 50 years,” he said. “In reality, it’s about 75 years.”

The current Highway 98 bridge was constructed in the 1950s, according to County Auditor Jon Finney.

However, the supervisors were still skeptical.

“I realize in 50 years I won’t be sitting here, but 50 years ago, the DOT gave us the Bonaparte bridge,” said Supervisor Ted Nixon. And now, the county is looking at spending money to maintain the bridge in the next few years.

“And the DOT gave the county the Bonaparte road and bridge for next to nothing,” said Supervisor Mark Meek.

Nixon said that the county currently has three bridges over the Des Moines River to maintain for vehicle traffic in addition to the walking bridge at Bentonsport. The bridge at Kilbourne is closed.

“In the lower Des Moines, is there a county that has as many bridges over the Des Moines as Van Buren County?” Nixon asked.

Armstrong said he believes Wapello County has two.

“I appreciate the situation you’re in,” Armstrong said.

Supervisor Bob Waugh said one concern he has is erosion on a back slope along Highway 98 that will eventually have to be fixed. He also said the blacktop will probably have to be repaved north of Douds since its condition has deteriorated.

Nixon said he would like the county to receive $1.5 million per mile for the 1.8 mile stretch.

“Seriously, I’ll certainly take that back to the transportation department. I’ll be right up front with you, that’s more than the $500,000 per mile it would cost to repave a 3-inch layer currently. I don’t know if I can justify spending that,” said Armstrong. “So, I don’t know what they’ll say. This is a start, and it will take time.”

While he said he understands the county’s consternation, Armstrong said it did reflect an opportunity for the county to control its destiny and that the Iowa DOT did make an investment on that road.

Armstrong said the state has been in negotiations with other counties (Clarke, Lee and Muscatine counties) for transfers of jurisdiction of state roads to the county.

Nixon said he was concerned that the State DOT has “turned its eye” away from “little Van Buren County.” He cited the condition of Highway 2 east of the Junction of Highways 1 and 2.

“I realize you repaved a portion of Highway 2 west of there, but east of there are problems that need to be addressed,” Nixon said. “Highways 1, 16 and 2 are very important to the county.”

“And I would say the secondary roads are just as important, as well,” Armstrong responded.

DOT District No. 5 currently has 4,500 lane miles and a budget of $12 million “that is shrinking every year.” He also said, that “the Farmington bridge had issues that I don’t want to get into right now. But we’re getting ready to finish the contract.”

Much of the work is done by contract, and the number of DOT employees has fallen from 5,000 to 2,800 over the years.

“We currently contract with 126 temporaries in our district for winter operations. We’re living within our means.”

“We also have limited funds,” said Waugh.

In the end, supervisors told Armstrong that they would be interested in negotiations and to contact Barrett with information on the DOT’s decision on the county’s offer.