Safety of kids comes first —How-Winn buses traveling on hard surface roads only

These are small ruts compared with some area residents are dealing with this spring.

These are small ruts compared with some area residents are dealing with this spring.

By Marcie Klomp

This is one of the worst years for gravel roads the area has seen in a very long time. Howard-Winneshiek Transportation Director Bill Kosters said, “I’ve never seen this in the 40 or so years I’ve been [in the area].”

Some of the country roads have been washed out and repaired, with some areas down to dirt. All of them are soft and dangerous to travel. Kosters talked with a gentleman over 90-years old who has never seen the gravel roads like they are. He even remembers how bad they were when cars first started driving on them.

Because of this, Howard-Winneshiek School District has determined buses will travel on hard-surface roads only until further notice. Supt. John Carver stated, “Safety is of the highest importance when it comes to our students.”

Lime Springs-Chester Elementary School secretary Connie McGrane and bus driver Eldred Rethamel compare notes on who is and is not riding the bus.

Lime Springs-Chester Elementary School secretary Connie McGrane and bus driver Eldred Rethamel compare notes on who is and is not riding the bus.

For families who live on gravel roads, this means parents are going to have to bring their children to the nearest school or to a neighbor’s house.

Kosters noted how parents and others are being very understanding. “A number of people have allowed us to pick up kids from their place [on a hard-surface road] and keeping the driveway cleaned.”

Engineer Nick Rissman explained Howard County has 130 miles of hard surface roads compared with 610 miles of gravel. How-Winn’s district is 462 square miles, the second largest land mass in the state and covers 1,724 miles daily.

Rissman said, “The gravel roads are in poor condition. The situation is the same in all counties in Iowa at this point. The rain two weeks ago was detrimental to the roads. Top that off with wet, heavy snow from last week.”

Kosters agreed. “That two inches of rain drew the first six inches of frost out, causing a tremendous amount of mud.” Country folk have never seen frost boils and mud as they see right now.

“And to complicate the problem, we have semis and heavy equipment traveling the gravel roads. Last week it was so unsafe. We’ve met vehicles on the crest of a hill and couldn’t get to the side.”

At least one bus tried to climb a hill but slid down because of the mud.

Kosters added, “My job is to keep our children safe. It behooves us as adults to make a conscientious decision to make a safe harbor for them on the bus. This decision was not taken lightly many things were taken into account.”

For schools, Carver commented, “It is a logistical challenge. We are trying to do the best we can do in getting the kids to school. We want the kids [in school]. But we don’t want to get a bus stuck in the mud with 30 kids on board.”

He doesn’t have any idea how long it will be before buses can travel on gravel. “It depends how soon the county can grade out the ruts and put down rock. I’ll defer to them.”

Rissman admitted, “It is impossible to put a time frame on this. For the most part, this week the roads will be firmed back up because of cold temperatures. Then we get into [the thaw] and how quickly Mother Nature will pull the frost from the roads.”

The engineer added, “We deal with it every spring. It just seems this spring has been worse.” He heard that on Friday four trucks and a number of cars had been stuck on gravel roads. He also mentioned the least desirable roads are the ones where heavy trucks and equipment frequently travel.

It is not just How-Winn having this problem. Kosters said districts all over the state have the same problem. Because of its size, How-Winn has to make the decision of late starts, early dismissals and closures an hour before other districts. Many local districts follow How-Winn’s decision.

Carver concluded, “This is still the front end of it. When we get a thaw, the roads will be worse.” For more information, check out http://www.howard-winn.k12.ia.us/

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