Some ATV and UTV enthusiasts hit the roads of Dubuque County on Wednesday — the first day on which the vehicles were allowed on roadways overseen by the county.
County supervisors last month approved the ordinance allowing ATVs and UTVs on most county roadways. Previously, such vehicles were allowed only for agricultural uses.
The new ordinance went into effect Wednesday morning after it was printed in the three official county newspapers, including the Telegraph Herald
It marked the start of a bright, new economic and recreational era, according to vehicle enthusiasts.
“On Sunday, we’re hoping to get out there, me and the family,” said ATV enthusiast Dan Errthum, of rural Dubuque County. “We’re pretty stoked.”
A LONG TIME COMING
A coalition of supporters has pushed in recent years for the move. A petition in favor of it was presented to county supervisors with more than 2,200 signatures.
That led to months of impassioned debate on both sides.
Law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Joe Kennedy, argued against the proposal, citing safety concerns. ATV manufacturers and trade groups also weighed in, stating the vehicles are for off-road use only.
But enthusiasts persisted, citing the potential for economic development and recreational quality-of-life improvements.
“It’s no different than motorcyclists or boaters,” said Errthum. “You have your niche. ... Boaters wave more at each other than any car or truck (driver). It’s just a different atmosphere.”
QUALITY OF LIFE
Daniel Sindt said Dubuque County is somewhat late to the party.
“Dubuque is a little bit behind the times in doing it,” said the owner of Sindt Motor Sales in Dubuque. “The people in Dubuque County are happy about it. But they’ve been going other places to ride.”
Accordingly, Sindt doesn’t expect a major uptick in sales as a result of the decision. But other businesses, such as restaurants and gas stations, should flourish as a result.
“It’s definitely helped them (in other counties and states),” Sindt said. “In Wisconsin, it’s been a real big thing and has been for a few years. Iowa’s just starting to get on board.”
Convenience and utility aren’t the primary benefits of the decision, according to Sindt.
“It’s more recreation, probably, than anything,” he said. “But the people that live in like Durango, say, being in Dubuque County, now they can ride over to their friends’ (homes).”
RULES OF THE ROAD
Per the ordinance, drivers 18 years or older can operate ATVs or UTVs on permitted roads as long as they possess a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance.
Sixteen roads, all of which will be marked with signage, will be closed to ATV and UTV traffic. County Engineer Anthony Bardgett said this week that purchasing and installing the signs will cost about $5,300 — significantly below the previous estimate of $12,000 to $15,000.
Vehicles are permitted on roadways from 5 a.m. to sunset. Vehicles cannot travel more than 35 mph and must have headlights and taillights.
Violations of the ordinance represent a simple misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $625 and up to 30 days in jail. Operating-while-intoxicated laws in place for other vehicles also apply to ATVs and UTVs.
“We’ll enforce (the ordinance) as we come across (violations),” said Kennedy. “We have limited resources to actively monitor this situation on a day-to-day basis. Our deputies will have the discretion to enforce this as they see fit.”
Errthum doesn’t expect any problems.
“We don’t want to see it get screwed up,” he said. “’If you see something, say something.’ That’s our attitude. One bad person is going to end up ruining it for hundreds of good ones.”
The ordinance has a “sunset” date of June 30, 2020. County supervisors have said they will evaluate how things have gone and decide whether to continue the program.