County road crews across the state have had a hard time keeping streets clear of snow and ice, but gravel roads have presented an exceptional challenge this winter. Jones County Engineer Mike McClain has been in the business for 25 years.
"The equipment is better today," McClain says, "but Mother Nature can still dish out more than we can handle and she’s done that this winter." McClain, who is also president of County Engineers on the Iowa Association of Counties, says the combination of extreme cold, strong winds and loads of ice and snow has made clearing rural Iowa roads a non-stop battle.
"The roads that we do have open – some of them are just open one lane and the drifts are higher than the equipment we have so that really complicates it when it blows back in again," McClain says, "there’s just no place left to push the snow." In most Iowa counties, clearing paved roads is the top priority after a snow event. McClain says many of the storms this winter have been so severe, that it’s taken several days before the plows can get to the gravel roads.
"We’ve had lot of snow and wind combination and that makes for lot of drifting," McClain said. "Everytime the snow gets blown around it gets a little harder and it’s a little harder to move." McClain is especially concerned with how gravel roads will handle the spring thaw.
"There’s a lot of snow and there’s not very much frost in the ground," McClain says, "so when the snow does begin to melt and the thaw comes, I think the rock roads statewide are going to be a very big problem." Iowa has roughly 71,000 miles of gravel roads. Dozens of school districts have stopped running their buses on those roads because they’re either buried under snow or they’re too muddy.