Five-year roads plan is 'aggressive'

Chad Drury, Ottumwa Courier, Iowa
·2 min read

Apr. 8—OTTUMWA — Wapello County Engineer Jeff Skalberg stresses the need for sound infrastructure in the county.

It's why he put forth a five-year Secondary Roads improvement plan that packs some punch.

Skalberg unveiled the plan, to be approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation, before the board of supervisors Tuesday, with projects scheduled from fiscal year 2022 through fiscal year 2026. The projects are a mix of road repairs and bridge and culvert replacements, but all are essential to maintaining safety.

"It's a balance between bridges and roads. With the plan, it all comes down to what I estimate it as compared to where the actual cost dollars come in at," Skalberg said. "If it comes in lower, we could probably do a little bit more. If it comes in higher, we'll have to drop something.

"It's not set in stone, but kind of an idea where we want to be heading. It gives us some direction, and it's pretty aggressive and sound. As long as nothing comes out the blue, we should see a lot of progress."

Skalberg budgeted just over $5.1 million for the next fiscal year for projects and equipment, which is pretty close to what the estimated expenditures are for the current fiscal year.

"It's a pretty aggressive budget," he said. "But we are within our means."

Though plans are always subject to change, there are a handful of bridge rehabilitation or replacement projects that will take place between July 1 and June 30 of next year. One of those is over Avery Creek west of Chillicothe, which the county had to discuss with Burlington Northern Santa Fe as far as obligations for both entities since part of that property is railroad right-of-way.

"That has a start date of July," Skalberg said. "It's anticipated to be done just before the start of harvest or just as it's beginning."

There are no complete road replacements in the five-year plan, but several projects include pavement markings, shoulder grading, etc. There's a big difference in how the Secondary Roads department approaches the projects, and project funding comes from multiple sources.

"A lot of the road projects are band-aids," Skalberg said. "With bridges, it's more replacements because you can't really do a whole heck of a lot by putting a band-aid on a bridge.

"The bridges are where a lot of our local option sales tax goes toward. We wouldn't be able to do what we're getting done without it, and it's central to our bridges and culverts," he said. "We try to replace at least three bridges every year, because we are losing two to three per year. Sometimes we lose more than that, but not always. We're just trying to keep our head above water."

— Chad Drury can be reached at, and on Twitter @ChadDrury