All-terrain and utility vehicles are now permitted on most Dubuque County roadways.
Following a public hearing Aug. 26, which was attended by more than 30 people, a divided Dubuque County Board of Supervisors approved the measure in a 2-1 vote.
“I think we developed a good, safe ordinance,” said Supervisor Dave Baker. “I think there is going to be economic benefit and I think the road is already being shared by bicycles, motorcycles, pickups, cars, trucks. I think the UTVs and ATVs will fit in.”
The ordinance will takes effect Sept. 4 when it is published in local newspapers.
The decision concludes more than two years of discussion, including the formation of a study committee that delivered formal recommendations.
The matter also spurred impassioned debate, including a petition from multiple law enforcement agencies against permitting the vehicles on county roads due to safety concerns. ATV manufacturers and trade groups such as the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America say ATVs are designed, manufactured and sold for off-road use only.
Meanwhile, the proposal drew encouragement from business owners and ATV and UTV enthusiasts.
“Change is difficult, and this is change for Dubuque County,” said Dubuque resident Vincent Hanson. “I see it as a positive change.”
Supervisor Ann McDonough, who voted against the ordinance Monday, critiqued the process by which the county board reached its decision, which included waiving the second and third readings of the proposal.
“There are two committees that we formed that feel that they were not … listened to in fairness,” she said. “We all listen to things that we want to hear. We listen for affirmation of what we already think we know. That’s just human nature, as well as unfortunately, part of the governing person.”
The ordinance includes multiple restrictions.
Drivers 18 years or older may operate an ATV or UTV on permitted county roads, so long as they possess a valid driver’s license and proof of liability insurance.
The vehicles are permitted on county roadways from 5 a.m. to sunset. Riders also must abide by a speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
The vehicles also must have headlights, taillights and horns.
Ordinance violations constitute a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $65 to $625 and up to 30 days in jail. Offenses such as operating under the influence or speeding are subject to existing state penalties pertaining to all motor vehicles.
The ordinance includes a sunset date of June 30, 2022, which McDonough said gives voters a chance to evaluate how they feel before deciding whether to re-elect her or Supervisor Jay Wickham, should they decide to seek office in the 2022 election. Their current terms end Jan. 1, 2023.
WHAT’S TO COME
In coming weeks, county staff will erect signage that mark 16 roadways to be closed to ATV and UTV traffic.
Dubuque County Engineer Anthony Bardgett said it will take several weeks for signs to be ordered and posted, which he estimates will cost the county about $12,000.
ATVs and UTVs will be permitted on Level B and C Maintenance Roads, but the county is leaving it to Bardgett whether to close them in the future.
“I’m going to leave them open until I see or hear of issues,” he said.
Wickham said the ordinance adoption is a sign local government is effectively responding to the desires of residents.
“I’m counting and planning and visualizing that if we have a culture of safety, education and enforcement, it will work well like it has worked in many counties throughout Iowa,” he said. “However, if that’s not the case, I’ll be the first here to listen to those complaints and take corrective action as needed.”
Dubuque County resident Richard Kaufman described the ordinance as a “terrible mistake.”
“I don’t think the 60,000 people who live in town know what’s happening out there — what they’re going to be encountering,” he said following the meeting.