Tax Impact of Iowa Roads

November 2016 WATCHDOG

Back in the early 1900’s Iowa roads were not much more than mud paths. Over time roads were paved with asphalt or concrete creating a smoother ride. One Iowa road phenomenon is the county gravel road laid out every mile. When most of Iowa’s population lived on farms that was a good thing. One hundred years later we have many miles of gravel roads with no one living on them. Oh yes, the farmer likes a good road to get to his fields, but the many miles of lightly used gravel roads creates a major expense for the County Rural Roads Department.

While Iowa law requires that all privately held land have a public access to it, the law also allows for different levels of service.  This has been an effective tool for many Counties to reduce both the operational costs and the liability exposure for the reduced service. Most Iowa counties – including Dickinson County – have adopted an ABC classification for its rural roads.

·       Service Class A roads are maintained to the best standards

·       Service Class B roads are marked and are maintained at a lower level.    Note: Might be used when a road has a low volume of traffic, serves a residence, or has another purpose requiring frequent access.

·       Service Class C roads are marked, gated, and have significantly reduced maintenance levels.  Iowa law also reduces the liability on these roads which often appear to be privately owned.

One of Dickinson Counties lightly used rural roads has recently been resolved. This gravel road Northwest of Diamond Lake was less than half mile in length, but led to a single residence. Within this half mile was a bridge that has a pony truss structure that includes a reduced load posting. This bridge is over 100 years old and carries a replacement price tag of over $600,000.  Recently the house became unoccupied and the heirs wanted to sell the 13 acre tract with a few buildings.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation was willing to purchase the land for eventual transfer to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  The 13 acre tract was surrounded by other conservation land owned by the DNR and USFWS, but they didn’t want the four buildings on the property. That is where Dickinson County has stepped in.  By assisting in the purchase, and eventual disposal of the building structures, it appears as though an agreement could be worked out to retain the 13 acres in public hunting land, that would also save Dickinson County tax payers over one half million dollars to replace the old bridge. Sometimes spending a little money now can avoid spending more later.