WATERLOO — Black Hawk County will be buying more rock and approving more overtime to repair its weather-damaged gravel roads.
County Engineer Cathy Nicholas said motorgrader and truck drivers in the Secondary Roads Department will begin working 10-hour days next week to place “spot rock” where frost boils made roads treacherous.
The plan is to address the problem spots over the next four to six weeks so road crews can resume normal rocking operations by June. The county has been waiting for roads to dry out enough to begin the intensive repairs.
But Nicholas said it appears her department will overspend its rock budget by $175,000 and the overtime budget by $82,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30. Those funds will come from the $3.87 million secondary roads budget reserve.
“We’re not going to make any major changes in what we’ve been doing historically to take care of the gravel roads this summer,” she said. “We could use some help from Mother Nature. Once it does stop raining, we know what to do.”
The comments came Tuesday as the county Board of Supervisors held a work session to discuss the poor conditions of the roads, which included a lesson from BMC Aggregates geologist Sherman Lundy.
“The county engineers inherited a 100-year-old problem and you’re not going to fix it overnight,” said Lundy, who explained how moisture trapped in the road bed and freezing eventually pushes to the surface in the spring and brings native soils up through the gravel.
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“You’re getting a clay-like, pudding-like mixture,” he said.
The county’s 500 miles of gravel roads were built more than 100 years ago.
“When they were conceived there was no drainage associated with any of these gravel roads … any subdraining or any linear type of drainage to take the water away from the roadway,” Nicholas said. “Of course none of the roads were built before today’s heavier agricultural loads.”
Black Hawk County did not have the severe frost boil issue during the past two years. Heavy rains last fall and severe winter created the worst frost boils any current members of the engineering department can remember.
“Prior to this winter, I feel the gravel roads were in good condition,” Nicholas said. “A year from now, if we have another bad winter, we may be asking for more money. If we just have an average winter, we may be fine.”
Board chairman Tom Little noted other counties in the area were suffering through the same problem.
“It’s just one of those years that we have to deal with it,” Little said. “We’re going to get there eventually. I know it’s a hardship for the people who live out there.”