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Iowa Road Facts By: Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum

November 9, 2012
Northern-Sun Print
Eagle Street (now named First Avenue Southwest) in LeMars was paved in July 1904, making it the first concrete street paved in Iowa, and the second in the nation. Considered just an experiment it was paid for by two private sponsors, the local hotel owner and the owner of the dry goods store. The street was laid out in 6’ squares, and the riding surface was scored into 4” squares to prevent the horses from slipping. On April 12, 1904, the Iowa General Assembly first required the registration of vehicles used on the highways. Cost was $1.00. There were 931 vehicles registered at that time. Also in 1904 the speed limit in the business areas of Iowa towns and villages was “not to exceed 1 mile in six minutes. In the outer limits it was one mile in four minutes and in the country it was limited to 20 miles an hour. Good brakes, a horn and lamp were required on all motor vehicles. Drives of cars were required to stop and allow teams of horses to pass. Iowa’s first traffic fatality occurred on September 29, 1905 when an attorney from Hampton, speeding along in his vehicle at 30 mph, lost control going down a hill, the car struck a bridge and plunged into the ditch, killing the driver. In 1911 the Red Ball Transportation Company ope3ned the first passenger bus line in Iowa, operating a route between Charles city and Waverly. Two days after opening, heavy rains washed out the road and bus service was suspended for five weeks. Along about 1916, it became common practice for communities who wanted to improve market roads to sponsor what were known as “gravel bees”. For these events a superintendent was selected for the day and citizens wither came in person and worked or donated funds which were used to employ someone else to do the work for them. At times there were 200-300 people with horse or mule teams and road working equipment gathered to put the more important roads into good condition. Iowa’s first official roadmap was completed in 1919, showing the 6,000 mile inter-county federal aid road system which the legislature had authorized the Highway Commission to select. An example of the traffic rate at that time averaged 300 vehicles per day, traveling on county roads. In 1922 every Iowa County was given an individual prefix number for their license plate. The prefix was followed by a dash and the number assigned to that particular motor vehicles. Center lines were painted on highways in black from 1926-1954, when the black center line was replaced with white reflectorized lines and yellow no passing lines. Speed limits were set at 70 mph in 1959, (75 on interstates). In the midst of the energy crisis the limits were reduced to 55 mph. That was repealed by President Clinton in 1995, and the speed limit for Iowa 4-lane divided highways was then raised from 55 mph to 65 mph (yea!)


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