Completion date for Raccoon River Valley Trail’s new “North Loop” now delayed to late next May instead of this fall. Unexpectedly, a 100-year-old concrete box culvert, carrying a creek under the former railroad right-of-way in the west part of the town of Jamaica, is found to be dangerously deteriorated and must be replaced. “We looked at every alternative,” a Dallas County official says, “but there was no real alternative to doing it right.” Better news: Work to start soon on two other parts of loop. Get the details here.
PERRY, Iowa, June 14, 2012 – Construction on the new “North Loop” of the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which had been scheduled for completion by this fall, will now almost certainly not be completed until late next May.
The delay is being forced because it was recently discovered that in the western part of the town of Jamaica, a huge, 100-year-old concrete box culvert, which has carried Mosquito Creek under the former railroad right-of-way, is so badly deteriorated that it must be replaced.
“Once we found out how serious this culvert issue is at Jamaica, we looked at every alternative, trying to figure out how we could still get the loop done this summer or fall,” said Jim Miller, who is secretary of the Dallas County Conservation Board, the agency which is administering the entire 33-mile construction project. “But there was no real alternative to doing it right, and that’s going to take more time.”
The Conservation Board met Tuesday night here to accept bids to build the unfinished portions of the North Loop. Those are between Dallas Center and Minburn, and from Dawson through Jamaica to Herndon. More on that in a moment.
The parts of the loop already completed are from Waukee to Dallas Center, and from Forest Park, which is just south of Perry, on through Perry and then west to Dawson. The stretch from Minburn north to Forest Park is nearing completion now.
As most trail users know, the Raccoon River Valley Trail in west central Iowa has been developed in stages, from the opening of the first 30-plus miles of it in 1989. By the late 1990s, it stretched 56 miles from the Des Moines suburb of Clive to the north trailhead town of Jefferson. In 2006, with the acquisition of the 33 additional miles of railroad right-of-way, planning for the North Loop began. Once completed, the RRVT will total 89 miles, with the interior loop being 72 miles long. That will be the longest paved loop on a trail in the U.S.
Dallas County Conservation director Mike Wallace spearheaded a three-year fundraising effort that by the fall of 2009 had secured the $6.6 million required for building the North Loop. Preliminary construction work began then, and has been continuing ever since – in stages.
The money has come from the Vision Iowa Program, several different kind of state and federal grants, corporate and private donations. Dallas County Conservation, while taking the lead on the loop project, has worked closely with the Conservation Boards in both Guthrie and Greene Countie, as well as with the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, bids from a half-dozen construction companies were reviewed. Jasper Construction Services, of Newton, was the winning bidder on two separate jobs – building the concrete trail from Dallas Center to Minburn for slightly more than $900,000, and also building it from Dawson to Jamaica for slightly more than $700,000. The deadline date for completion of their work is May 24, 2013.
Jasper Construction Services has worked on the RRVT previously. The company did the resurfacing project between Panora and Yale in 2010.
A separate bid letting will be held – hopefully later this summer – for replacing the old culvert in western Jamaica and then paving the two miles of right-of-way between Jamaica and Herndon. Dallas County Conservation board member Miller said the trail surface cannot be paved until after the culvert is replaced, because the culvert work will require the use of heavy equipment that would badly damage any trail surface. That equipment will be brought to the site by traveling east on the right-of-way from the Herndon area.
Officials have long been aware of the old culvert in Jamaica. It was built by the railroad in 1912, and Guthrie County Conservation director Joe Hanner said “that creek going through there drains three square miles of land. That’s a big area, but that’s because it is so flat right out there.”
Hanner said he was unaware there was any problem with the culvert until early this spring, when he drove west from Jamaica one day on the right-of-way, on which the rails and ties have long-since been removed. The surface now is old cinder stone that is used for ballast on rail beds.
“As I was driving that day, all of a sudden I felt the wheels of my pick-up just drop into the ground a little bit,” he said. “I’ve had enough experience on old rail beds to know that wasn’t good. “
He got out of his truck, climbed down to look into the culvert and saw a mess.
He said it is “about 70 feet long, so it goes under most of the right-of-way there. It’s either an 8-foot-by-by-12-foot culvert, or maybe 10-foot-by-12-foot. So it’s a big one. But it is so silted-in that it was hard at first to judge what kind of condition it is in now.”
Subsequently, concrete experts have been brought to the scene to examine it, and they’ve determined the culvert’s walls are corroded and disintegrating. Beavers may have tunneled right through the concrete in a few places.
The officials have learned that because of the significant amount of drainage the culvert carries, and because it sits in an incorporated town, replacing it will require getting a “flood plain permit” issued by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The DNR will study the replacement plans that engineers draw-up, suggest changes for flood mitigation and hopefully issue the permit. Apparently that’s a process that sometimes can take months.
Snyder & Associations is the engineering firm working on the North Loop project, and they have extensive experience in trail building in Iowa.
Miller said he thinks there is “still a high probability” that trail construction can be completed this fall between Dallas Center and Minburn, and between Dawson and Jamaica.
“We sure wish everything could come together, and that we could also be done this fall with replacing the culvert and paving from Jamaica to Herndon,” he said. “But realistically, it’s doubtful that can happen.”
Jamaica Mayor Ladonna Kennedy and her husband Randy Kennedy live adjacent to the old culvert.
“It just seems crazy to think that while trains used to cross right over that culvert, that now it might not be safe to have bicycles crossing over it,” the mayor said. “But we all know how old it is. It probably isn’t in very good shape.”
Hanner pointed out that if the subsurface of a trail is not solid, that leads to persistent maintenance problems with the trail surface.
Miller said the good news is that the two construction bids that were accepted Tuesday night “came in lower than what we expected. Because of that, we’ve got enough money left that we are going to be able to cover the costs of replacing the culvert and still get the paving done to Herndon. It’ll just be later than we’d hoped.”