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Iowa’s Madison County wracked by road construction

September 10, 1997

WINTERSET, Iowa (AP) _ Good thing Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid didn’t have to worry about road work in bridge-laden Madison County _ their love affair might never have been.

These days, it’s a bit of a hassle to get to the six covered bridges made famous by Robert James Waller’s 1993 novel ``The Bridges of Madison County″ and the 1995 movie of the same name.

Parts of two main roads to Winterset, the county seat, have been shut down for months for construction. Visitors have had to follow confusing and lengthy detours _ a problem critics say is hurting the area’s booming tourism trade.

``It’s totally insensitive to what the community has had to endure the last couple of years,″ said Florian Roehrich, who owns the Village View Motel. ``We’ve had people coming from Missouri who would arrive one to two hours later than they expected to and were extremely unhappy.″

Part of U.S. 169, a conduit for drivers from Interstate 80, has been closed since spring to replace _ what else? _ a bridge. And much of state Highway 92, which connects the county to I-35, has been shut down for more than a year.

``They weren’t dynamiting a cliff or anything,″ said Stephanie Fuller, manager of the county’s Chamber of Commerce. ``The town is in an uproar. My goodness, how long does it take?″

The big attraction, of course, are the covered bridges and the fictional Francesca Johnson farmhouse that was renovated for the movie. The birthplace of John Wayne is here, too, and is now a museum.

But Fuller said the number of visitors to the county is down 58 percent this year and she expects the number of guests signing the book at her office to be half of last year’s 31,000-plus.

Fuller has already canceled Saturday’s ``Grand Reopening of Madison County.″ Now she’s worried the state highway won’t be open in time for the Covered Bridge Festival, which attracted 70,000 people last fall. The 28th annual festival is scheduled for Oct. 11-12.

``That’s a legitimate concern,″ said Glenn Miller, a state transportation engineer. ``I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.″

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