February 27, 2024

Jasper County begins its new, long-term plan to fix gravel roads

Secondary roads breaks down work into stabilization, reclamation, resurfacing and minimal maintenance

Jasper County Engineer Michael Frietsch hands out documents explaining the secondary roads department's new approach to gravel roads during a public meeting April 25 in Lynnville City Hall.

Betty Rankin, an 83-year-old resident of Reasnor, attended a meeting in Lynnville last week about Jasper County’s new approach to gravel roads maintenance, and when she learned that crews would only be able stabilize five to six miles of roads each year, she said, matter-of-factly: “I’ll be dead and gone by then.”

Out of the 90 miles of gravel roads that need stabilization work, residents in attendance determined it would take 15 to 18 years to complete. Jasper County Engineer Michael Frietsch nodded his head, not sugar coating it. But over time, as other funding sources arrive, the county could increase its stabilization routes.

“Your road is a stabilization candidate, and it’s not going to be stabilized in the first go-around here this year —that first five to six miles — but it will get that 125 tons per mile of spot rock we have here,” Frietsch said, noting the hilly road makes it challenging. “That’s a problem with rock on hills … it migrates down.”

Rankin has lived in Jasper County for many decades, and she can remember a time when the roads weren’t so bad. While Rankin was certainly skeptical and critical of the county’s new approach to gravel roads, she told Newton Daily News that it will be beneficial in the long run. Still, she had plenty of questions.

“Like I was wondering how they will determine which is the heavily trafficked roads,” she said, noting she has spoken with officials before about her road and they know how she feels. “I don’t know. I suppose it’s a good idea and a good plan. But I’m not going to be living long to find out by the time it gets to our area.”

And Rankin is right — it will take a long time to fully implement the county’s new approach. The engineer and the supervisors acknowledged that, too.

However, deferred maintenance of the county’s gravel roads in the past have caught up to the region, and it will take time and money to correct it. Brandon Talsma, chair of the board of supervisors, said the county is trying to catch up to “25 years of neglect,” and that is the main thrust behind the new program.

THE NEW APPROACH IS CALLED ‘GRAMS’

Of course, stabilization is just a small part of the engineer’s overall plan, which is called the Granular Roads Assessment and Maintenance Strategy (GRAMS). The plan splits maintenance and rock allocation into four main categories: stabilization, reclamation, resurfacing and minimal maintenance.

Each decision the secondary roads department makes when it comes to road maintenance is based upon the Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT), percentage of trucks using the road and past rock consumption data. The four maintenance categories are largely dependent on these figures.

Here are how the categories are determined, how many miles of roads they cover and the life expectancy of some of the mainteance:

• Stabilization routes have an AADT greater than or equal to 100 or between 50 and 100 with truck use greater than 10 percent. About 90 miles of routes have been identified. The county has planned five to six miles of stabilization in the first year of the program. Stabilized routes have a 10-year life expectancy.

• Reclamation routes have an AADT between 50 and 100 with truck use equal to or below 10 percent. About 288 miles of routes have been identified. The county has planned 25 miles of reclamation in the first year of the program. Reclaimed routed have an eight-year life expectancy.

• Resurfacing candidates have an AADT between 30 and 50. About 316 miles of routes have been identified. The county has planned to complete 170 miles in the first year of the program. Crews will alternate between the north and south half of the county. Resurfaced candidates include previous year’s reclamation routes.

• Minimal maintenance candidates have an AADT of less than 30. About 220 miles of routes have been identified by the engineer’s office. Maintenance will be addressed on an as needed basis through the country’s spot rock program, which affects all 914 miles of gravel roads in Jasper County.

The county’s spot rock program applies to every Level A granular road and involves contract hauling rock to strategic stockpile locations all across the county. For the summer stockpiles, more than 66,000 tons of roadstone is required. Spot rock will run from approximately June to October each year.

JASPER COUNTY SPENT TOO LONG NOT SPENDING ENOUGH

Secondary roads sees six cents of every dollar of property taxes collected by the county. Over the years, the engineer’s office has been given more and more money for rock. Last year, Frietsch said the county had about $2.3 million to spend on rock. This year its budget increased by $1.5 million.

Randy Freese, the maintenance superintendent, told residents at the Lynnville meeting that the county had only $400,000 to spend on rock each year almost 10 years ago. Frietsch said that part of the reason why the quality of gravel roads had diminished so much in Jasper County.

In Washington County, a region much less populated than Jasper County, Frietsch learned their engineer’s office has about 600 miles of granular roads and a budget of $2.3 million. Jasper County has about the same budget but 300 more miles of granular roads to maintain.

“That’s when I realized, ‘Uhh, yeah. We need to bump this up and look at this because we’re not spending enough,’” Frietsch said.

Josh Britton, assistant maintenance superintendent, added, “Our surrounding counties have a lot less gravel roads than we do and their budgets have predominantly been bigger through the years. We’re still tying to catch up and be up to that level as well.”

PROGRAM HAS ALREADY BEGUN

On April 27, the secondary roads department posted a picture on Facebook of the very first stabilization road being laid out. Using a 50-50 mixture of recycled asphalt pavement and three-quarter-inch roadstone, the highway crews leveled the surface to a four-inch thickness. But that’s not all they’re doing.

Crews will also apply a chemical stabilization product and then treat the surface with a half rate of calcium chloride.

Two weeks ago the county also purchased $1.43 million of stockpile and resurfacing rock, which came in under the engineer’s estimates, saving the county more than $215,000. The stockpile rock weighed in at about 55,000 tons, which is about three-quarters of what the engineer’s office will need for the spot rock program.

When it comes to reclamation routes, the crews must clean and reshape ditches and pull in the shoulders. They will then scarify existing road surface and disc existing granular and soil materials before placing 600 tons of one- to one-and-one-eighth-inch roadstone per mile.

Compared to the past practices of the engineer’s office, there was no long-term plan nor set schedule for regrades. There was no system for stabilization of roads to address excessive rock consumption, which frustrated citizens who were tired of seeing rock thrown on their streets and still have the same issues.

Many of the stabilization roads were consuming 400 tons of rock per mile every year, in addition to the hours upon hours of work from secondary roads crews. By giving those roads a new structure, the county believes it will free up more rock and more hours to be used in other areas.

“This is the starting point,” Frietsch said of the new plan. “This is the point we’re going to build off of. We’re going to learn lessons as we go along. We’re going to make changes as we go along. We’re going to fine tune this. This is a framework for us that we can start from. That’s the way I look at this.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.