• Fri January 25 2008
  • Posted Jan 25, 2008
By WILLIAM PETROSKI and JENNIFER JACOBS • Register Staff Writers County officials representing towns along this summer's RAGBRAI route are still worried about liability issues involving bicycle riders, but they hope the Iowa Legislature will address the problem this year. This summer's seven-day bicycle tour doesn't pass through Crawford County, where the county's board of supervisors passed a resolution in October banning RAGBRAI or "any event of like kind and nature." The supervisors responded to a $350,000 insurance settlement paid to the widow of a RAGBRAI rider who died in 2004. The rider was thrown from his bicycle after hitting a center-line crack on a Crawford County road. Since then, dozens of county leaders throughout Iowa have asked state lawmakers to provide an exemption for future court cases involving bicycles on county roads. This year's RAGBRAI, from July 19-26, starts in Missouri Valley with stops in Harlan, Jefferson, Ames, Tama-Toledo, North Liberty and Tipton before ending in Le Claire. RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz said Thursday he had received a warm reception from the designated host communities throughout this year's route and no one discouraged the bicycle tour from coming. "This is a great, positive day in every comunity," Juskiewicz said. "We have made a lot of changes in RAGBRAI over the years and we have strengthened the waivers" of liability that bicycle riders sign when registering for the ride. Greene County Engineer Wade Weiss in Jefferson said Thursday his county has sent lawmakers a resolution asking them to address the bicycle liability issue. "I am fairly confident something will be resolved prior to RAGBRAI; that is our hope, anyway," he said. Harrison County Engineer J. Thomas Stoner said he won't stand in the way of RAGBRAI passing through his western Iowa county because many residents believe it's important to be a host county. But he said he also plans to notify RAGBRAI officials that "for a narrow-tired bicycle there may be inherent hazards that we cannot protect against and we would ask them to be extremely cautious." Tama County Engineer Lyle Brehm said that everybody in his county wants RAGBRAI to stop in Tama-Toledo, but they are also troubled about the liability implications. One of his worries is that all county roads built with concrete typically have a center-line pavement joint similar to the Crawford County road where the bicyclist's death occurred. Scott County Engineer Jon Burgstrum said he would be remiss to say the liability issue isn't a concern, but he expects every effort will be made to ensure that this year's ride is as safe as possible. "We here in Scott County are very excited about RAGBRAI coming and are more than willing to work with them to try and come up with the best route to get to Le Claire and to take advantage of all the things that we have in Scott County," Burgstrom said. Some lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Clarence Hoffman, who lives in Crawford County, said Thursday they want to come up with a way to reduce counties' liability from bicycle injuries. Others want to address the problem by simply repairing the roads. A bill will be introduced soon by state Sen. Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who is a passionate cyclist and RAGBRAI rider, that would create a separate fund that counties could dip into for road repairs. Specifically, Dotzler wants counties to be able to get grants through a Department of Transportation economic development program called RISE. Counties would pay 20 percent and the state would pay 80 percent, he said. "These are public right of ways," he said Thursday. "We need to make sure the roads are fixed." As for a bill lessening counties' liability, Dotzler said flatly: "I don't think that'll make it through the legislature." Democrats are in the majority in both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate.

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