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Road tripping through Johnson County

Supervisors, staff view progress of current road, bridge projects

JOHNSON COUNTY– Johnson County supervisors and county staff hit the road on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
The purpose of the trip was to tour road sites, receive updates on projects and view road conditions in various spots throughout the county, an effort undertaken annually, said County Engineer Greg Parker, who supervises the Johnson County Secondary Roads Department.
“Our department has four meetings with the board annually,” Parker explained. “Three take place in the board room and one is a tour of the county to look at projects, see the accomplishments and view any road issues the supervisors want to bring up.”
The first half of the August tour was spent traveling through southern Johnson County, from American Legion Road northward to Shueyville. The group stopped for a working lunch at Shuey’s, where the supervisors and Johnson County Secondary Roads staff received a presentation by Ament Design, Inc., on options for replacing the county’s Secondary Roads facility that was destroyed by a truck fire on Monday, March 25.
The second half of the day was comprised of stops near Solon and North Liberty. County staff provided information on completed projects as well as those still in progress.

Curtis Bridge Road NE/Sandy Beach Road NE
A brief stop at this intersection was long enough for Parker to point out the 600-ft. section of Curtis Bridge Road NE road that will receive a few inches of asphalt overlay to improve the pot-hole riddled surface.
All but that 600 ft. of Curtis Bridge Road NE lies in the incorporated limits of the City of Shueyville; however, the county bears responsibility for the road’s maintenance because of a 2003 state law tying farm-to-market roads to a city’s population. Because Shueyville’s population is less than 500 people, the county is still bound to pay for any improvements to Curtis Bridge Road NE.
“We did offer Shueyville the opportunity to cost-share to improve it, just like we did 120th Street,” said supervisor Janelle Rettig, “and they would have nothing to do with it.”
Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said he believes the City of Shueyville lacks the financial capacity to do major road improvements at this time, and Rettig suggested it’s because much of the city’s incorporated property lies within its designated Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.
“Everything they have is TIF’ed, basically,” said Rettig.
The 600-ft. portion just to the north of the intersection at Sandy Beach Rd. is the only project the county currently intends to undertake on this road. There are no improvement projects slated for Sandy Beach Road on the county’s adopted 5 Year Road Plan.

Johnson County District 3 Maintenance Shed
In the fall of 2012, county officials approved to build this $523,000 maintenance building and storage facility at 3341 120th Street, east of Shueyville. It will eventually replace the county maintenance sheds near Swisher and Solon.
“The Swisher maintenance shed is very dilapidated,” said Parker. “We can barely fit equipment in there, it was heated by wood burning stove, and we would be required to upgrade the electrical system, which was a phenomenal cost.”
Shutting down the Solon and Swisher sheds to combine staff and resources into the one newer building was both cost-saving and efficient, said Parker.
The new structure– a 155-ft. by 50-ft. steel building– includes several LEEDs certified, energy-saving features, including an adjustable roofline vent that provide power-free day lighting and opens to create natural ventilation, in-floor heating generated by an highly efficient, propane powered boiler system, and reverse motion-activated light switches with LED lighting. Additional insulation in the building adds to its energy savings.
Outside, the county has a master plan to landscape the property using sand prairie vegetation that is low-maintenance and drought-resistant, and low-grow fescue grass that requires very little mowing– typically, just once per season. Additional plantings will help control sediment erosion and provide a windbreak for the building to further increase its energy efficiency. The landscaping will be funded, at least in part, by an Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund grant.
“A year from now, the property will look quite a bit different,” said Chris Henze, the integrated roadside vegetation management/weed commissioner for Johnson County’s Secondary Roads department. “Native plantings sometimes take a year or two to get established, so hopefully three years from now you’ll come back here and see lots of showy flowers and well-established trees.”
Included on the property is a cold storage hoop building with a concrete block foundation and a cloth roof, another cost saving measure in that it is an inexpensive structure utilized for sand and salt coverage.
“It helps us supply residents in that area with the necessary sand and salt for winter road maintenance,” Parker said. “Otherwise, we would have to bring our trucks back to the main shop, which is inefficient.”

140th Street
Traversing Ely Road, Parker noted that there are no plans to improve 140th Street (near the 600 Acres Recreational Vehicle Park), but the road is on the county’s Future Projects list.
“We have our adopted 5 Year Roads Plan, but there are other projects the board and staff have talked about, but do not have funds to complete,” Parker said. “So those go on the Future Projects list so residents and constituents know we are thinking of them, but can’t take them on because it’s a limited funding issue.”

180th Street (east of Solon)
The county just resurfaced a 2.5 mile stretch of road that heads east out of the City of Solon, remarkable in that the new surface is made from a carbon-based waste product left over from coal-fired power plants.
The process used on 180th Street was first to seal the road’s transverse joints with a slurry mix, cover the entire surface with slurry and then cover it with a slag seal. Slag– the waste from coal plants that would have traditionally been disposed of– is an alternative to traditional rock chips, said Ed Bartels, Assistant County Engineer.
“The slurry makes the ride a lot nicer and eliminates that hard bump you feel every so often,” said Bartels. The slag provides a lot of skid resistance, which increases safety, and is very durable. “The slurry leveling improved the ride, and now we can plow it without wheel ruts and without the slap of that transverse joint,” said Bartels “That’s good for our plows and good for people’s vehicles.”
Also, the slag seal stays black– instead of turning light gray, like chip sealed roads– which will help facilitate melting of snow and ice in the winter. In hotter months, the slag seal is somewhat self-healing, Bartels added, in that it tends to soften and seep back into cracks as it heats up. Another advantage is that the smaller particles that make up the slag seal are less likely to be picked up by vehicle tires, thus reducing the incidence of rock chips on windshields.
“The cost of this process is the real bonus,” said Bartels. “We paid $158,700 to do this whole process: transverse slurry leveling, full-width slurry leveling and the slag seal on top that keeps out the water.”

Mehaffey Bridge
Replacement of the bridge that crosses the Coralville Reservoir is proceeding as well as expected, Parker said. A very wet spring shut the project down for a period of time, and the work is currently about one month behind schedule.
“But the contractors think they can bring additional crews in over the winter to make up the lost time and expedite completion,” Parker said. It’s all weather-dependent, he added, “(but) we do see there is urgency and we are trying to complete it as soon as possible.”
So far, the road has had no complete closures. The project has a staging schedule that can be found on the county’s Secondary Roads home page (find the Mehaffey Bridge link on the bottom left hand side of the page.
“The way we set up it up was a maximum of 90 days of critical closures, and we don‘t anticipate that will take place until stage four, when we actually do demolition of the existing structure or when we pour the new bridge deck,” Parker said. Even with crucial closure days, the contractor is only allowed to completely close the roadway for a week at a time, with county approval, and then have to open it again to the public. Additional closures require the contractor to resubmit a request to the county and set up plenty of advance notification to the public.
“There may be intermittent shut downs during the day for a couple hours at a time,” Parker said, “but the contractor is very clear about minimizing impacts to the traveling public as much as possible.”