Walled Lake officials and residents have been voicing frustration over the deteriorating road conditions along Pontiac Trail and West Maple Road in the city, where the two critical lakes area arteries intersect and fall under the jurisdiction of the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC).
The area is scheduled for a total reconstruction project in 2013. The timeline upsets city officials who say steps should be taken to correct the problem now.
“We have been inundated with calls on the potholes and have had numerous talks with the road commission,” said Department of Public Works Director Loyd Cureton. “There must be some way to move the schedule up before 2013. It’s bad for commuters and worse for business.”
While RCOC officials agree that the roadways are deteriorating and brutal for motorists, the decision to schedule the project for 2013 was made by the Federal Aid Task Force Committee, not the RCOC.
Federal road funds are forwarded to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and divvied out through the Federal Aid Task Force Committee, which is comprised of representatives from cities, villages, townships and two RCOC officials.
“They control how the money is spent,” said RCOC Spokesperson Craig Bryson. “We apply by submitting projects, and the task force ranks each one. This project was submitted in 2009 and selected last year, but the funding isn’t available for four years into the future.”
Projects are ranked according to a point system. The highest points are given for congestion or safety issues, both of which apparently aren’t factors at the Walled Lake intersection.
“Both Pontiac Trail and West Maple are in very poor condition in this area, there’s no question,” said Dennis Kolar, RCOC deputy managing director and county highway engineer. “We have obtained federal funding to completely reconstruct both roads in and around the intersection, but those funds are not available until 2013. However, that reconstruction is the only real, long-term solution to the problem.”
The reconstruction project is estimated to cost $2.3 million.
Cureton said he hopes the RCOC readjusts its priorities and re-evaluates the situation.
“We’re not in an adversarial position with them, but we have to apply some pressure so they can re-evaluate it,” he said.
In a recent RCOC press release, it was stated that there are plans to perform “heavy maintenance” operations on the roads as soon as asphalt plants open in the spring. This will involve crews chipping out the worst sections of the roads and replacing those sections with hot asphalt that will be placed with a roller.
“This is not a permanent solution, but it’s far better than pothole patching, which is our only option during the winter,” Kolar said. “This should buy us the time we need until the federal funds become available for the complete reconstruction.”
The problem with the roads at this intersection is a combination of age — the intersection was built in 1994 — and a condition known as “alkali-silica reaction” (ASR), which is a chemical reaction seen in some cement mixtures used in the 1990s, according to Kolar. The reaction results in the formation of an alkali-silica gel which may expand in the presence of moisture and typically causes expansion and cracking of concrete.
“This is a problem that has been seen in concrete road projects from this era across the country,” Kolar said. “This is purely an adverse chemical reaction that nobody in the concrete business anticipated or was aware of in the 1990s.”
Since that time, Kolar said, there has been a fair amount of research into ASR, and new concrete mixes today are designed to avoid the problem.
Kolar added that the RCOC understands the frustration of motorists who drive through the Pontiac Trail/West Maple intersection.
“This situation frustrates us tremendously, as well,” he said. “We know how to fix the problem. That’s what we do. We would love nothing more than to go in there today and rebuild those roads. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have the money to do that.”
Kolar pointed out the condition of roads in Oakland County will continue to worsen before they get better.
“Our funding has gone down for five years as gas tax revenues and vehicle registration fee revenues have fallen,” he said. “As a result, we have been forced to eliminate all road resurfacing projects except those paid for with federal funds.”
Kolar said the RCOC will continue to patch potholes at the West Maple and Pontiac Trail intersection until the heavy maintenance work can be done in the spring.
“That’s the only option we have,” he said.