Rob Freed’s comments about riding his bike across Iowa as part of a cross-country ride to raise awareness of the disease that took his son’s life weren’t specifically aimed at Ottumwa. But they still hit a mark.
Freed was laughing when he blasted Iowa’s road conditions, but there’s truth to what he said. Here’s the full quote:
“Iowa’s a nasty state, for me to ride in. The roads are the most hideous roads, condition wise. There’s not one smooth ride in Iowa. But also, every area has a thing you can hang your hat on. Iowa, even though it’s very hilly, has such a unique scenery to it, with the hills and the farms, that no place in the country has. There’s no place in the country that looks like Iowa.”
Clearly, it’s not just Ottumwa that has issues.
It’s unlikely Freed knew about the presentation during last week’s council meeting about how the city selects roads for repair and how that process can change depending on when money is available. Important parts of the city’s program, like the grant funding that finally allowed the city to replace the deck on the Market Street Bridge, are entirely out of the city’s hands.
But there are things the city clearly needs to do better than it currently does. Projects too often drag on for far longer than the city projected, leaving roads torn up and unusable for months longer than people had been told to expect.
Surprises happen. We get that. There are times when the best planning is disrupted by an unforeseen event. But that shouldn’t happen on project after project. The timelines the city issues when work begins on major initiatives should be reasonably accurate.
The thing we’re not sure the city understands is how corrosive it is when projects begin with upbeat, optimistic assessments and then stop mid-work, failing to progress for weeks or months at a time. Few things could be better designed to undermine confidence in the city’s stewardship of infrastructure. Anyone who has lived in Ottumwa for long can identify a handful of examples without thinking too hard.
We don’t want this editorial to be viewed as an attack on the city or on the public works department. It’s not intended as either. What we hope to do here is to identify a problem and encourage the city to find remedies.
Whether the issues lie in the original estimates the city receives or in the execution of those efforts by the contractors, Ottumwans are too used to seeing projects seemingly idled. And when that happens, it raises questions about credibility for the city.
Better, more accurate estimates of when work will be completed are essential if the city wants to restore faith in its ability to manage Ottumwa’s 320 miles of paved roads. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s probably not going to happen for several years, given how long Ottumwa drivers have had to deal with roads that in some cases more closely resembled corrugated cardboard than a smooth street. There’s no magic wand to wave and fix everything.
But this is a starting point, something the city could reasonably be expected to accomplish. And right now, the city needs to find a way to begin restoring trust.