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First phase of improvements for Ely Road coming

Johnson and Linn counties partnering on three-phase project

JOHNSON COUNTY– Commuters between Linn and Johnson counties have a while before they will see work on Ely Road.
It’s coming in late August.
The first phase of Johnson County’s plan to upgrade Ely Road (W6E) will begin at the Linn County border and extend just four-tenths of a mile southward. Phase 1 includes replacing a deteriorated culvert and grading and widening the roadway’s foreslopes– the ground that goes from the shoulder to the bottom of the ditch.
The first phase of construction is preparation for future phases of improvements. Next year, portions of Ely Road will be re-paved. The $200,000 cost of the project will be shared between the Linn and Johnson counties.
Improvements to Ely Road show up on the county’s 5-Year Road Construction Program for the next three years; however, Assistant Johnson County Engineer Ed Bartels told the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in its April 2 meeting the plan could change slightly.
“The phasing on Ely road is fluid,” Bartels said. “What we have identified so far makes sense, but what the federal government tells us what we can do over the reservoir is probably going to dictate what we actually end up doing.”
The next phase is scheduled for the 2016 construction season.
“Phase 2 is about doing all the structures along that road and getting them extended so we can prepare to do our flood mitigation project in the future. We are looking at the potential to overlay from Highway 382 to 140th street during that year,” Bartels added.
Phase 3, scheduled to occur in 2017, will re-grade .75 miles of Ely Road in order to raise the road’s profile to mitigate flood events similar to those of 1993 and 2008. That portion of the project, which will also flatten and pave the road’s shoulders, is estimated to cost around $1.5 million.
The $2.7 million fourth phase, scheduled to take place in 2018, will extend the improvements another 1.35 miles.
Also under consideration is how to improve the intersection of Ely Road and Highway 382. County engineers are currently working with the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County (MPOJC) to conduct traffic analyses at the intersection and review options for making the intersection safer. A fatality occurred at that location this past December, when a car collided with a school bus, killing 73-year-old Patricia Howell of Ely. Bartels said engineers will consider all options– everything from creating a 90-degree angled corner to building a full roundabout.
“We are working with MPOJC to help us decide what the best solution will be. When we get that information back we will update you and decide then how to go forward with the intersection itself,” Bartels told the supervisors. “It’s fluid as to how we get to that point, but we are taking bites out of it every year.”
Bartels and County Engineer Greg Parker presented the draft 5-Year Road Construction Program to the supervisors as required by the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Also included in Johnson County’s plan is a list of proposed Maintenance and Repair Program (MRP) projects. While not required by the IDOT, Parker said, the MRP list is reported in order for the supervisors to properly plan financing road construction and repair from year to year, and to inform the public.
“In order to have an inclusive, whole program, we included (the MRP) with all the 5-year road construction activities so that when people get online, they can see we are not only doing construction projects but accomplishing general road maintenance activities for our road system out there, and people are seeing the differences,” Parker said.
Johnson County Supervisor noted that the differences Parker referred to are not just extra layers of gravel.
“These are bigger projects than that, stuff that staff can usually do in-house,” Sullivan said. “They can rebuild road or do some pretty serious things here; it’s a lot more than just spreading rock.”
Parker confirmed that the Secondary Roads department is able to complete more extensive work like replacing box culverts, re-grading roads and improving them with a macadam base and chip-seal surface. Paved road projects vary in cost from about $350,000 per mile to $2.2 million per mile, depending on the need.
The Secondary Roads department has a current budget of around $7 million, with revenues coming from the federal government, the State of Iowa and county funding. Bartels pointed out that a very important source of funding road projects in recent years has been the supervisors’ willingness to exercise the county’s bonding capacity.
“We want to thank the board, because that’s a tremendous investment, and the board needs to be recognized for that,” said Bartels.
For example, for Fiscal Year 2016, the county bonded for $3.025 million for projects on IWV and Ely Road, he noted.
“Without this support, we’d either have to scale back, push them further out, or just not do them at all,” Bartels said.
Another significant source of funding came as a windfall when the Iowa legislature passed a 10¢ per-gallon fuel tax that was signed into law last month. It will bring an additional $1.1 million to Johnson County’s coffers this year: about $833,000 in the secondary roads fund, and $282,000 to the farm-to-market roads fund.
Those allocations are not flexible, Bartels noted.
“The secondary roads fund and the farm-to-market roads fund are state-constitutionally protected, so when people ask you if these moneys are getting used for something they aren’t supposed to–they just can’t. They get used on roads,” Bartels said.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig expounded on Bartels comments, emphasizing that money for trails comes from federal grants and proceeds from a voter-approved conservation bond.
“We do not, and cannot, put any money that we can put in roads, into trails,” Rettig said. “There is no fuel tax money that we have control over going into the trail projects. It is not true that county funds trails in the same dollar amount as we fund roads, and it’s not true that if we stop funding trails we could build more roads. It doesn’t work that way.”
Federal funding for roads and highways is still up in the air. Congress is currently hashing out the Federal Highway Transportation bill, which expires May 31.
“If we don’t get a continuing resolution in May, some of our identified projects are in jeopardy,” said Bartels. He urged the public to learn more about transportation funding and get involved in the discussion.
“Transportation is important. It drives our economic growth. It drives our future,” he concluded.
The 5-Year Road Construction and Rehabilitation program slide presentation, project list and maps are available on the Johnson County website at www.johnson-county.com/dept_sec_roads.aspx?id=1469.