Construction to begin in 2022 on County Highway F near Blanchardville. 

It’s a mere drop in the deep pothole of Wisconsin’s neglected rural roads, but a lifeline county highway in southwestern Wisconsin is set for a total makeover. 

The Iowa County Board voted unanimously at its last meeting to begin the process of rebuilding County Highway F from Highway 39 south to where it meets Highway 78 in Blanchardville.

The project will take a year for engineering work, with the actual road-improvement project set to occur in 2022. It is expected to cost somewhere between $5 and 6 million, depending on the design report.

“Iowa County has wanted to do that project for a decade, but total reconstruction is just so very costly, and the county needed to be able to borrow for its share of the cost,’’ said Ricky Rolfsmeyer, who represents the area on the Iowa County Board. 

Iowa County Highway Commissioner Craig Hardy said the project had been awarded a $3.6 million grant from the state’s rural Surface Transportation Program. The county will borrow the remainder and pay back the note with revenues from the Badger Solar Farm project near Cobb.

A meeting of people upset about the condition of that road and others in the area drew more than 60 people to the Pecatonica High School on a cold January night. Pecatonica superintendent Jill Underly called the road “an artery” for families in her district. 

A crumbling section of County Highway F near Blanchardville. (Photo © Andy Manis)

She said if roads that connect the rural area to Highway 18-151 aren’t improved, families will continue to move away. The district includes rural parts of Iowa and Lafayette counties and many residents drive to work either in Madison or Dodgeville, tying the economic viability of many families to the condition of the rural road.

County officials from Iowa, Green and Lafayette counties attended the January meeting. They talked about how a decade of declines in state support for county and town road repairs had left them with crumbling roads because of years of deferred maintenance.

Rolfsmeyer, the former Pecatonica school board president, said the district has for years been concerned about school bus safety on Highway F, as it has a number of blind intersections that can lead to crashes.

“This is a very small piece of a much larger puzzle of funding for the state’s rural roads,’’ said Rolfsmeyer. “We still have to solve that bigger puzzle.”

Iowa County Board President John Meyers agreed, saying there’s “a whole portfolio of projects” the county needs to tackle. Part of the reason is historic, Meyers said. Iowa County, like many Wisconsin rural counties, did a lot of road paving in the 1960s and 1970s, paving gravel roads and turning them into county trunk highways.

County Highway F runs through rural Iowa County. (Photo © Andy Manis)

In the southwestern corner of Wisconsin, Iowa County has 376 miles of county roads, Lafayette has 271, Grant has 311, Green has 277 and Sauk has 305, according to Wisconsin Counties Association data.

“The lifespan of an asphalt road is about 40 to 50 years, so they’re all coming due at the same time because they were paved at the same time,’’ he said.