Muddy county road

Courier file photo

OTTUMWA — The biggest opportunity to improve gravel roads in Wapello County won’t slide past supervisors and their engineer.

“This is the largest rock contract this county has ever done,” said County Engineer Brian Moore, “at least in the last 25 years.”

The county has more than 500 miles of gravel road; at up to a million dollars a mile, a half-billion dollar paving project is out of the question. But if the supervisors could find a million or two …

“We borrowed money for the Rock Bluff Road and Chillicothe bridge project,” said Supervisor Greg Kenning. “There was money left over, and we have to decide what to do with it.”

Supervisor Jerry Parker said by law, there are only three years to spend the construction project loan. But, Parker added, a one-year extension (due to an unforeseen delay in construction) presented an interesting possibility.

“Reallocating this $760,000, along with the use of Farm to Market Road money and putting [additional county] funds in means we’re going to, for the first time in my 20 years here, rebuild many of our roads. This is a one-time opportunity to redo almost all the roads, and many will be rebuilt.”

“We won’t go fence to fence in most cases,” cautioned Moore. “I’d say there will be a lot more ‘reshaping’ than rebuilding. We’ll [repair] the grass shoulders and ditches pulled in closer.”

Others will receive what rural road builders call “a crown.” Parker said that part is important because a rise formed in the center of the road allows rain to roll off the road surface. It’s similar to the way a peaked roof on a house works. As long as the drains and ditches along the shoulder are working, the water moves away from the road.

Moore has asked for contract prices on tons of rock. With spring here, he doesn’t want the dump trucks filled with rock to drive on muddy rural roads.

“Weather permitting, they’ll be able to start before May,” he told the board of supervisors.

Most roads will get rock, or rock brought back onto the road. It’s hard to know how much of the county will see full rebuilds, though Moore said one place has his full attention.

“One of the first ones, right out of the gate, is going to be Copperhead Road,” he said.

Staff writer Mark Newman can be contacted at


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