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Sutliff Road upgrade planned before RAGBRAI rolls

Fuel tax increase provides extra funding for county road project

JOHNSON COUNTY– An increase in the fuel tax might cause anger at the pumps, but some drivers in Johnson County will realize its benefits yet this year.
The Johnson County Secondary Roads Department presented its draft of the 5-Year Road Construction and Rehabilitation program on Thursday, April 2, during the Board of Supervisors’ informal meeting. The 10-cent per gallon increase in fuel tax passed by the Iowa legislature and Governor Terry Branstad in February caused a couple of projects to be re-prioritized on that plan, including an upgrade to Sutliff Road now scheduled to begin this spring.
The fuel tax is estimated to generate additional revenues between $800,000 and $1.1 million for Johnson County road maintenance and projects. The tax went into effect March 1, allowing counties to collect the new revenues before the end of this fiscal year.
It also allowed Johnson County Engineer Greg Parker and his Secondary Roads staff to ask to amend the 5-year program and move the Sutliff Road project to this construction season.
“We decided to put it in there (this year) in part because it was on future projects list and in part because it was a good candidate for the fuel tax money,” said Johnson County Assistant Engineer Ed Bartels. “RAGBRAI is going to be using the route this year, so to help us limit liability from the very poor-conditioned road, we’re just going to fix it.”
Bartels said in an email communication Monday that a preliminary design for the project was created a couple years ago prior to recommending it for that year’s five-year plan, but at the time there wasn’t enough funding, so the project was changed to an Maintenance Repair Program (MRP) project, and significantly shortened. The influx of new revenue allowed the department to do more.
“RAGBRAI has never been the main driver of that project, but obviously it’s in the county’s best interest to make the route they chose as safe and welcoming as possible, so that was certainly a consideration,” Bartels wrote.
The improvements stretch from 140th Street north of Solon to the Linn County line. This spring, 4.35 miles of Sutliff Road (F14) will be widened and resurfaced, with 2-foot paved shoulders and wider pavement at some of the curves to better accommodate large trucks and longer vehicles.
While it’s not a reconstruction project, Bartels noted, the $1.6 million upgrade– $1.48 million of which will be funded with additional fuel tax dollars– will improve the road’s safety and ride.
“It would be a major project if we were going to do it the way Johnson County likes to do roads. This is a band-aid, but it’s a band-aid that we hope will last 10 to 15 years,” Bartels said. “It’s a very good project. It will serve the county very well.”
Because about 98 percent of the design work had already been done, Bartels was confident he and his staff could bring a final design before the supervisors as early as this week for approval, and get started on bid letting right away. The goal is to complete the upgrades by June 30.
“The road obviously needs some tender loving care and I’m very excited about how we are spending these dollars,” said supervisor Mike Carberry.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig agreed it was a good use of new tax revenues.
“We were going to do a section of (Sutliff Road) anyway, but when the fuel tax passed, this was a good candidate to move up. RAGBRAI is completely secondary, but if we are going to do it we might as well welcome people to our county on it as opposed to waiting until August,” Rettig said.
Bartels said Sutliff Road will remain open to traffic during construction, with flaggers and pilot cars to control the traffic.
“It’ll probably take a month or so, and I would anticipate it starting maybe mid-May and concluding right before the July 4th holiday. Of course, the weather might have something to say about that, but that’s our plan anyway. We fully expect to be done before RAGBRAI comes through on July 24,” said Bartels.
The 5-Year Road Construction and Rehabilitation program slide presentation, project list and maps are available on the Johnson County website at http://www.johnson-county.com/dept_sec_roads.aspx?id=1469.