WATERLOO — Rain and melting snow have turned rural roads into a mushy, muddy mess.
County secondary roads departments across Northeast Iowa are urging heavy equipment to stay off of gravel roads while all motorists should use caution during the softened conditions.
“This isn’t scientific, but we think they’re the worst they’ve been in 25 years,” said Black Hawk County Engineer Cathy Nicholas. “With the high amounts of rainfall last fall and then the snow, there’s all kinds of water in the subgrade and they are very soft.”
Black Hawk County shut down Airline Highway between Raymond and Canfield roads after reports numerous cars were stuck in the mud. Early Thursday, a truck got stuck on a gravel road south of Hudson, leaving eight-inch ruts after it was pulled out.
Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Herbst said deputies have been responding to a number of vehicles stuck in the mud.
“The conditions of the gravel roads are horrible and in some cases treacherous,” Herbst said.
He was cautioning motorists not to drive through areas where water had gone over rural roads because it’s possible the roadway is undermined below the surface.
Bremer, Grundy and Buchanan counties’ secondary roads departments were asking heavy equipment and large vehicles to avoid gravel roads until conditions improve.
“Grundy County asks the public to minimize travel on the gravel roads, especially with large vehicles,” Grundy County officials said. “Gravel roads are turning softer by the hour with warmer temperatures and rain.
“Eight inches of raw material over two feet of frost equates to eight-inch ruts,” they added. “These will only get deeper until the frost and moisture leave the roadway.”
Many school districts, including Waterloo Community Schools, were running buses on paved routes only.
Nicholas said the problem could persist well into next week.
“We’re trying to keep our motor graders and dump trucks off the roads,” she said. “We’re hoping for warming and a dry period over the weekend to firm up the roads so we maybe can get the graders out Tuesday or Wednesday.”
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It could be the end of next week before trucks are able to get loads of rock where needed on the gravel roads, she added.
“We’re going to need a lot of rock,” said Nicholas, noting the county budgets $1 million annually for the material. “It’s too early in the year to say we’re going to go over that.”
Frost boils and soft gravel roads weren’t the only issue for area road systems. Rain and melting snow has led many local streams to overtop the travel lanes.
There were 22 reported road closures throughout Black Hawk County as of Thursday afternoon.
George Wyth State Park closed Thursday due to flooding, “and could be closed for several days,” according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website Wednesday. Black Hawk County also announced that Black Hawk Park in Cedar Falls was closed Thursday due to flooding.
Flood warnings and a wind advisory are in effect for Black Hawk, Bremer, Butler, Franklin, Grundy, Hardin, Marshall and Tama counties until 10:30 p.m. Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
A flood watch was in effect for Allamakee, Chickasaw, Fayette, Floyd, Howard, Mitchell and Winneshiek counties until 7 a.m. Friday, according to the NWS.
Rain changing to snow Thursday evening and strong winds were expected, though travel was not expected to be impacted.
River flooding was expected to continue through the weekend due to “excessive runoff from recent rainfall and snow melt,” according to the NWS.
A specific flood warning was in effect for the Black Hawk Creek at Hudson for moderate flooding, the Cedar River at Cedar Falls for moderate flooding, the Cedar River at Waterloo for minor flooding, and the Turkey River at Spillville for major flooding.
A specific flood watch was in effect for the Shell Rock River at Shell Rock for minor flooding, and Beaver Creek at New Hartford for minor flooding.
The county was making sandbags available at the following locations: 501 N. Cedar St., La Porte City; 329 Longfellow St., Waterloo, until 3 p.m.; Washington Street south of Winslow Road, Finchford; and at the BP gas station in Washburn.
Amie Rivers contributed to this story.