Rapid snow melt and huge amounts of rain in mid-March proved too much for rivers and streams to handle, with floodwaters swamping homes, communities and thousands of acres of crop ground.
Cory Gaston remembers when the floodwaters started rising in Mills County, Iowa.
“It happened so fast,” he says.
At the time, Gaston worked as assistant county engineer. Less than two months later, he would take the reins of the office — near the time when a second round of flooding further damaged miles of roads in Mills and neighboring counties in southwest Iowa.
“Something like this is not something you can plan for,” he says. “We didn’t have a budget for it, so we rely on reimbursements from multiple federal agencies such as FEMA.”
Gaston says 50 miles of county roads were directly damaged by the flooding. Many more miles were indirectly affected as traffic increased due to closures on Interstate 29, U.S. Highway 34 and Iowa Highway 2, among others.
He says some repairs have been made to several county roads — roads that farmers will be traveling come harvest time.
“I don’t know that we’re harvest ready, but we're getting there,” Gaston says, adding a contractor has begun working on seal-coated roads that suffered substantial damage this spring and summer.
Scott Suhr, a traffic planner with the Iowa Department of Transportation in Atlantic, says there are no funds set aside for disasters such as flooding. Record flooding on the Missouri and Nishnabotna rivers resulted in millions of dollars of damage, primarily in Fremont, Mills and Pottawattamie counties in southwest Iowa.
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For example, a new section of U.S. Highway 34 west of Pacific Junction was broken up by rapid currents caused by floodwaters from the Missouri River. Suhr says Iowa Highway 2 experienced severe damage from the river as well.
Both are four-lane roads west of Interstate 29, but for the most part are limited to two-lane traffic while repairs are made and floodwaters recede.
Suhr says some repairs had been made before another round of flooding in May. He says Highway 2 repairs will not be completed until next year.
All this, Suhr says, is based on no more flooding.
“It’s been a wild year, much worse than 2011,” he says. “Our hearts really go out to the people affected by the flooding.”
Suhr says Iowa will use both federal and state money to make repairs caused by flooding throughout the state. He says roads with the most traffic will be prioritized, adding many highways carried extra volume and will likely need some repairs.
“In southwest Iowa, you had people using (Highways) 71, 59, 275, 92 and 34 to get around the road closures and get to work and other places,” he says. “This has taken a toll on those roads as well.”
Suhr adds with winter looming, getting highways ready for snow removal is a priority.
“I think everything is pretty much under control,” he says. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there.”