The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) recently released its biennial Strategic Planning Report summarizing discussions between RCOC leaders and community officials in every municipality throughout the lakes area. Though the general consensus is that the RCOC continues to provide satisfactory service, community officials are frustrated with the lack of funding that has delayed many priority projects.
The conclusion reached by virtually all parties involved is that road funding is woefully inadequate due to the combination of declining road revenues, rising costs and a deteriorating road network.
In July, the RCOC completed its latest round of strategic planning meetings with Oakland County communities. It was the 14th time the RCOC has undertaken the process in 26 years. The face-to-face meetings were conducted by RCOC Managing Director Brent Bair and Deputy Managing Director/County Highway Engineer Dennis Kolar.
The meetings not only provide valuable insight to help plot the long-term course for the RCOC, but help it identify ways to improve its services while revealing larger trends related to growth and developments and the impact on county roads. It also helps the road commission glean input regarding improvements the communities deem high priorities.
“These meetings allow the leaders of RCOC to maintain positive relationships with the leaders of the communities of Oakland County,” Bair said. “Though this process is very time consuming, we consider this to be an incredibly valuable investment of our time.”
The RCOC strategic planning process began in 1985 as an effort to better gauge the needs and concerns of the communities it serves and to foster better communication between the parties. Meetings are held every other year. After each round of strategic planning meetings, the RCOC compiles a list of road projects that the communities have identified as priorities over the next decade.
“To our knowledge, we are the only governmental agency of our size that invests the time and effort to conduct this type of individual meeting with virtually every community we serve (nearly 60 separate meetings),” Bair said. “Each community devotes about 90 minutes to these meetings. The RCOC devotes that much time to each of 60 meetings, plus extensive travel time.”
During the recent round of meetings, community officials underscored that “the current road funding mechanism does not work.”
Road surfaces in the county are becoming severely worn and deteriorated. Decades of underfunding have resulted in pavement cracking, rutting and potholes, all which negatively impact motorists and commercial transportation in the county. Revenues from the Michigan Transportation Fund no longer provide adequately for the increasing cost of preventative road maintenance.
“We have been underfunded for decades,” Bair said. “According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Michigan has been among the bottom nine states in the nation in per-capita state and local road funding for nearly 50 years — and it shows; our roads are in bad shape. Michigan needs to adequately fund its roads.”
Some of the observations by community officials indicate that since the RCOC has been able to address only a fraction of the road needs identified, the list of needs reported by communities this year remains nearly the same as in 2009, the last time the process was completed.
“The feedback we have received is that the communities find these meetings very useful, despite the mutual frustration over lack of adequate funding,” Bair said.
“Most of the major road construction projects we have done over the last 35 years have been projects identified through the Strategic Planning process — that’s hundreds of millions of dollars worth of road improvements,” Bair said. “Over time, we have steadily whittled away at the list of projects identified by the communities. However, we are just as frustrated that we cannot do more projects. There is a tremendous need for additional road improvement projects — which is documented through this process — but very little money available for those projects.
“And, while there is nowhere near enough money available compared to all the road work needed, there is some money available, and this process helps us prioritize projects for which we will apply for funding,” he said.
However, the RCOC does not select the projects that receive federal funding (currently the only real source of road improvement funding available). That is done by the Oakland County Federal Aid Task Force Funding Committee. That committee objectively rates and ranks all projects submitted for consideration, and the projects that receive the most points receive the available funding.
“This process was deemed so fair and objective that the Federal Highway Administration, some years back, recommended it for use nationwide as an ideal way to select projects to receive federal funding,” Bair said.
Surface conditions of RCOC-maintained roads — especially potholes, joints/cracks and drainage problems — continue to cause concern for communities.
On the positive side, the communities cumulatively ranked the RCOC’s FAST-TRAC system of adaptive traffic signals, and dust control on gravel roads as the most effective RCOC services. Moreover, the RCOC’s snow and ice removal service on main roads was lauded despite cutbacks to the program; however, improvements should be made on subdivision streets, according to local officials.
During the latest planning meetings, local officials identified almost $2.3 billion in road needs over the next decade in Oakland County.
The sluggish economy has impacted local municipalities that continue to cut back on spending and staff, which has compelled them to trim transportation budgets, resulting in projects being postponed, canceled or altered.
According to the RCOC’s 2011 Strategic Planning report, road reconstruction and surfacing projects represent slightly less than 10 percent of the estimated 10-year needs, pegged at $243 million. Traffic capacity improvement — including building new roads, lane extensions, and widening bridges and other structures — equate to roughly $1.2 billion. The next-largest portion of the needs consists of gravel road improvements, including paving and enhanced maintenance, tagged at nearly $200 million.
Only one resurfacing, restoration or rehabilitation (RRR) project has been delineated for 2012 in the lakes area. Pontiac Trail, from Maple Road to South Commerce Road in Walled Lake, will be totally reconstructed at a price tag of $2.7 million. Throughout the county, five projects totaling roughly $16.6 million have been selected.
The lack of funding has been a topic of discussion recently. Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed several fixes to address the disparity, such as converting the fixed-rate gas tax to a percentage of the fuel wholesale price, and/or raising vehicle registration fees. Other options up for discussion are establishing a 1-percent sales tax dedicated to transportation funding, or allowing local-option transportation funding, as well as several other proposals that are on the table but have not been enacted.
“As the governor noted, the longer we put off addressing our roads, the more costly it will be to repair them and the more of a negative impact the roads will have on our state’s economy,” Bair said. “While we support the restructuring of the gas tax so that it will rise over time with inflation, this will not provide an immediate increase in road funding, so it would do nothing to immediately address the problem. We support an immediate increase in road funding. Raising the gas tax would be the simplest and fairest way to do that.”
The following is a synopsis of how the lakes area communities view the RCOC strategic planning process and the individual community project wish lists for road improvements.
Orchard Lake not holding its
breath for road improvements
RCOC officials met with Orchard Lake City Council members along with Oakland County Commissioner Shelley Taub (R-Orchard Lake), former City Clerk Janet Green, and Gerry McCallum, who is now the director of city services, on May 20.
While a trio of “wish list” projects were delineated, McCallum said he’s not holding onto any hope that they will come to fruition in the foreseeable future.
“We talked about surface conditions, but the RCOC doesn’t have much money and can’t do anything,” he said. “The meetings keep the lines of communication open, which is important, but if it’s the same message every two years, why have them?
“The big thing is that there are rising costs of inadequately funded roads,” he added.
The long-range strategic transportation priorities cited by Orchard Lake officials include: examining the possibility of constructing roundabouts at Orchard Lake Road and Pontiac Trail, as well as at Orchard Lake Road and Long Lake Road; widening the “Haggerty Corridor” to M-59 to provide an alternative north/south artery; and evaluating the possibility of assisting the left-turn movement on southbound Orchard Lake Road just south of Pontiac Trail.
The No. 1 project would be a left-turn lane where back-up coming from northbound Orchard Lake Road prevents sufficient gaps for traffic heading to the Esso Square Plaza.
“Business owners bring it up every year — the northbound traffic in the left lane prevents southbound traffic from getting into businesses,” McCallum said.
He also noted that, due to the amount of private property right-of-way needed to construct a roundabout, costs would be prohibitive at this time.
Walled Lake: Widen West Maple
to five lanes — if you can
The Walled Lake City Council — along with former Director of Public Works Loyd Cureton; former City Clerk Cathy Buck; Police Chief Paul Shakinas; Planning Commissioner Karl Ankrom; Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board of Directors members Pat Wlodarczyk and Bennett Lublin; and resident Joie Vawter — met with RCOC officials as part of the strategic planning process on April 19.
“There isn’t a lot of money, but there’s still a benefit to the meetings,” City Councilman Bill Sturgeon said. “It allows our citizens to share their concerns and, in turn, allows the RCOC to explain their restrictions and finances.”
Walled Lake’s road construction desires include a four-prong approach — widening of W. Maple Road to five lanes from Pontiac Trail to the eastern city limits; widening Pontiac Trail to five lanes from the eastern city limits to M-5; paving the shoulder on the north side of 14 Mile Road between Decker Road and Walled Lake Drive; and continuing the left turn lane on Pontiac Trail, from the intersection of Pontiac Trail and West Maple south to Nicolet.
“A first priority project would be to widen West Maple to five lanes up to Pontiac Trail,” Sturgeon said. “But according to the county, the funds are not available to take on any of these projects in the near future.”
No major changes to Waterford’s
list of desired road projects
Waterford Township Treasurer Margaret Birch and Supervisor Carl Solden — along with Oakland County Commissioners Jim Runestad (R-White Lake, Waterford) and John Scott (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield); Engineering Superintendent Bill Fritz; Building Director Doug Bradley; Engineer Rob Merinsky; and Planning Director Larry Lockwood — met with RCOC officials on May 12 to discuss long-range transportation strategies.
“It’s very beneficial as we must deal with the RCOC on many aspects of planning and road maintenance and on-going projects,” Lockwood said. “We have established a strong relationship with RCOC and these meetings are important in the future planning for our region.”
The No. 1 long-range transportation priority levied by township officials was widening Crescent Lake Road to three lanes from M-59 to Hatchery.
“The majority of Crescent Lake is a two-lane road and you must cross the Clinton River — if there’s an ambulance that needs to get onto M-59, it needs clear access, so this project would make it a lot easier for emergency vehicles,” Bradley said.
Other future transportation projects desired by the township include:
• Repaving a majority of township subdivision streets;
• Widening Williams Lake Road to three lanes from Airport Road to Dixie Highway;
• Splitting Warren Drive into two separate dead-end streets;
• Widening Scott Lake Road to three lanes;
• Widening Pontiac Lake Road to three lanes from M-59 east;
• Realigning Airport Road at Williams Lake Road;
• Realigning Elizabeth Lake Road at Williams Lake Road;
• Realigning Watkins Lake Road at Scott Lake Road;
• Widening Cass Lake Road to three lanes from the township border to M-59;
• Improving sight distance at the curve on Silver Lake Road;
• Widening Sashabaw Road to three lanes from Dixie Highway to Maybee Road;
• Widening Airport Road to three lanes from M-59 to Andersonville Road;
• Realigning Hiller Road at Cooley Lake Road to create a “T” intersection;
• Constructing grade separations of the Canadian National Railroad where it crosses at Frembes, Hatchery, and Scott Lake roads;
• Eliminating the two 90-degree curves on Clintonville Road between Walton Boulevard and Lake Angelus Road;
• Extending Williams Lake Road along a new alignment from Gale Road to provide a direct connections to Nelsey Road;
• Realigning Maceday Drive at Williams Lake Road;
• Widening Telegraph Road north of the Oakland County governmental complex to allow for four lanes of traffic with a boulevard median;
• Widening Williams Lake Road to three lanes from Gale Road to Airport Road along its existing alignment;
• Paving Coomer Road;
• Paving the remaining segment of Lochaven Road;
• Straightening the curve on Cooley Lake Road at Lake Vista;
• Softening the curve at Brookhaven Court and installing a passing lane; and
• Flattening curves on Cooley Lake Road between Cass-Elizabeth Road and Elizabeth Lake Road, especially segments adjacent to Elizabeth Lake and between Elizabeth Lake and Crescent Lake.
“Basically it’s the same list we’ve had for a decade,” Bradley said.
“They are really scaling back based on the funding available,” Lockwood noted.
Wixom’s No. 1 priority is widening
Beck from 12 Mile to West Road
Wixom city administration, including City Manager Mike Dornan, Assistant City Manager Tony Nowicki and DPW Director Mike Howell, met with RCOC officials on March 2 to discuss long-range transportation needs.
“The discussions are important,” Dornan said. “I appreciate how difficult it is to get out to all the Oakland communities — it’s a large task.”
Dornan added that the discussions cement relationships between the RCOC and municipalities.
“They assist in understanding the problems and the difficulties both the RCOC and municipalities face,” Dornan said. “We’ve had a great partnership with RCOC for 28 years now, but they are running with weights on their feet to maintain our roads. Funds are almost non-existent to keep up with deteriorating roads.”
The priorities listed include widening Beck Road from three to five lanes from 12 Mile Road to West Road; improving the intersection of Napier Road at Grand River Avenue; widening Beck Road from three to five lanes from West Road to Pontiac Trail; and constructing a Landrow Road extension from Pontiac Trail to W. Maple Road.
The city’s main priority is widening Beck from 12 Mile Road to West Road.
“Based on need, this would be the No. 1 project,” Dornan said. “It’s for businesses and motorists going through to the interstate (I-96).”
Widening South Commerce a key
improvement in Wolverine Lake
The strategic planning meeting with the Village of Wolverine Lake was held on April 11.
Village Administrator Sharon Miller, Department of Public Works Supervisor Andrew Stone and Mike Powell, the village’s engineering consultant, represented the village.
According to Powell, the strategic planning process is still valuable despite the RCOC’s revenue shortfalls.
“I’ve been involved in many of these meetings and they are valuable for both the RCOC and local communities to voice their concerns so there’s no miscommunication,” Powell said. “RCOC is fairly blunt and they like to hear both the good and bad from the community’s standpoint.”
During discussions, village representatives stressed that the widening of South Commerce Road from Pontiac Trail north through the intersection at Shankin Street is of key importance.
“Village Council has made it clear that the we need to extend the left-hand turn lane on South Commerce north to Wanda because it’s very dangerous,” Powell said. “There’s a lack of sight distance and it holds up traffic traveling south or north on South Commerce.”
Other long-range strategic transportation priorities for the village include instituting a comprehensive program to pave shoulders on county roads; implementing a comprehensive and ongoing program to maintain drainage systems along all county roads in the village; improving visibility at the intersection of Benstein and Glengary roads through sight distance evaluation, tree trimming, and moving local through-traffic from neighborhood streets to arterial county roads.
Priority in Milford Village: New
by-pass to west area of village
The RCOC met with Milford Village Manager Arthur Shufflebarger and Director of Public Services Robert Calley on April 14.
“I think the opportunity to have a periodic communication with the (road) commission is a good idea,” Shufflebarger said.
The village’s long-range strategic transportation priorities include developing alternatives for a true by-pass to the west area of the village.
Other village priorities include having spot capacities installed along North Milford Road, South Milford Road, East Commerce Road and West Commerce Road.
The village is also hoping to have South Hill Road paved from the village limits to Pontiac Trail, as well as paving the section of Weaver Road in Milford Township that approaches the village to eliminate gravel washing onto First Street.
“We’ve given some attention to the by-pass,” Shufflebarger said. “We have spent the most time on it. It is probably the greatest interest to us.
“All of those are RCOC projects,” he added. “We have very little authority over them. I don’t know if the (village) council has established priorities and numbered them one, two, three.”
The RCOC also stated that village officials reported a few residential building permits have been submitted and that things appear to be turning around, adding that most foreclosed properties have been maintained by the lending institution, showing that the village is still a good investment.
The commission also reports that the village would like to see better planning coordination between the two parties and that the village would like to see improved road repairs, tree trimming/removal, and sweeping.
“The commission does a good job, given the state of revenues and increasing costs. There may be parts they can accomplish on a small basis, but the likelihood of all these projects getting done is pretty slim,” Shufflebarger said.
The RCOC also says that the village is hoping to proceed with a Commerce Road construction project in 2016, using a proposed millage as a 50 percent match of federal funds.
Green wants Milford Road paved;
project not scheduled until 2015
The RCOC met on April 14 with Milford Township officials, including Supervisor Don Green, Clerk Holly Brandt, Treasurer Cynthia Dagenhardt, and Kurtz Elementary School Principal Dale Phillips.
“This meeting gives you an idea of how much to save for future projects,” Green said.
The road commission reports that the township’s long-range strategic transportation priorities include signalizing Martindale Road at General Motors Road for pedestrian and trail traffic, as well as improving the intersection of Milford Road and Dawson Road.
The township also hopes to have the bridge on Milford Road near Maple Road at Old Milford Farms replaced with a three-lane structure, as well as have Milford Road widened in both directions to three lanes in accordance with the West Oakland Corridor Study.
Other priorities include having Burns Road paved from Wixom Road to Commerce Road and from Commerce to Cooley Lake Road.
The township also looks to improve the intersection of Buno Road at South Milford, possibly as a Tri-party project, as well as have shoulder paving on resurface/reconstruction projects and initiating a gravel road paving program.
The RCOC also reports that the township wants to evaluate and study intersections for signalization, have South Hill Road paved, and consider constructing a roundabout at the Wixom Road and Duck Lake Road intersection.
Milford Township is also looking at having a comprehensive paving program initiated and hopes to see Milford Road widened to five lanes from Pontiac Trail to Maple Road to accommodate commercial traffic.
The road commission reports that the township is optimistic about the state of the economy as housing permits are increasing, foreclosures in the township have not been significant, and decreases in state equalized values (SEVs) have not been as steep as last year.
But there is no sign of commercial development in the township for the near future.
“Every one of our priorities is a priority, but my taxable income has gone down $400,000 in four years, so where do I come up with the money?” Green asked.
“I’d like to see Milford Road repaved, but that’s not scheduled until 2015 when federal highway dollars are set aside. I’m afraid it won’t last until 2015.”
He added that the widening of the Milford Road and Dawson Road intersection was scheduled to be completed Saturday, Nov. 5, except for the lane painting.
The RCOC states that the township believes commission services are quite effective, but Milford would like to see more gravel road grading, more restructuring of paved roads and more paving of primary gravel roads.
The township is also supportive of the Tri-party program, with its funds being used for the Milford/Dawson Road project; and is also interested in the proposed mileage-based user fee to fund future transportation projects.
Orchard Lake Road boulevard
high on W. Bloomfield’s list
RCOC officials met with West Bloomfield Township representatives on Feb. 28, including Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste, Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy, and Senior Planner Sara Roediger, who said that the meetings with the road commission are important because it has jurisdiction over township roads.
“It’s important to make sure the county gets what it needs,” Roediger said.
Shaughnessy said the meetings help the community. The township can tell the RCOC what’s important and both parties can disclose priorities to each other, so it’s very useful, she said.
Among the township’s long-range priorities are having West Maple Road widened to a four-lane boulevard with two travel lanes in each direction from Haggerty Road to just east of Orchard Lake Road.
The township also hopes to have Orchard Lake Road widened to a four-lane boulevard between just north of West Maple Road and 14 Mile Road.
Another township priority is resurfacing Green Lake Road from Commerce Road to the Richardson Road intersection.
The township also wants to see modern roundabouts constructed at the intersections of West Maple and Haggerty; West Maple and Halsted; Green Lake Road and Pontiac Trail; and Commerce and Hiller roads.
West Bloomfield would also like to see the flaring of westbound Walnut Lake Road at West Bloomfield Pond for right turns; Walnut Lake Road at High Court for right turns; the eastbound lane on Lone Pine Road at Lone Pine School for a right-turn lane; and the eastbound lane on Lone Pine Road at West Hills School for a right-turn lane.
The township would also like to see the improvement of the Middlebelt and Maple Road intersection, including the possibility of constructing a roundabout.
Other priorities are the installation of turn lanes and left-turn signals on Middlebelt Road at Franklin Valley and Corners subdivision, flare lanes southbound at Deerfield and turn lanes northbound at Square Lake Road.
The township would also like to see a passing lane on Commerce Road at Cedarbank and making the traffic signal at Orchard Lake and Lone Pine roads a four-way to accommodate the Knightsbridge subdivision entrance to the west.
Shaughnessy said that the No. 1 priority for the township is the completion of a boulevard on Orchard Lake Road between 14 Mile and Maple.
“We have discussed completion of Maple Road from Orchard Lake Road to Haggerty as a three-lane road as part of the Northwestern Connector project,” she said.
“They are our main connector roads. Orchard Lake Road is the heart of the business district and we have heavy traffic on Maple. We have two roundabouts on Maple, but they have never improved Maple to three lanes. They overlayed Maple a few years ago, but it was a temporary fix.”
Roediger said the Northwest Connector project was put together in 2001 to find a way to get traffic west to M-5.
According to Shaughnessy, the township continues to fight for dollars that were set aside for the connector project and is in constant negotiations with the RCOC.
Roediger said that even though funding is on the decline, there is money for the Orchard Lake boulevard, but it’s hard to tell when it will be done.
Pilchowski hopeful for overlay
next year on Hickory Ridge
Highland Township Supervisor Triscia Pilchowski said she “absolutely sees the benefit” to the RCOC’s strategic planning process because the road commission and local units of government get to collaborate and communicate.
Of the projects listed, Pilchowski said she hopes the RCOC will follow through with doing a pavement overlay along Hickory Ridge Road north of M-59.
“I’m hoping this will be addressed next year,” she said.
Pilchowski is also hoping that improvements will be made at Harvey Lake Road and Wardlow Road.
“Some immediate action at Harvey Lake and Wardlow helped, but I hope the RCOC will follow through on more corrective action in 2012.”
Listed on Highland’s current road project wish list are the following projects:
• Extending Duck Lake Road north to intersect with White Lake Road;
• Improving sight vision at the intersections of Rowe and Milford, Hickory Ridge and Middle, and Hickory Ridge and Clyde;
• Constructing turn lanes at the intersection of Rowe and Milford roads;
• Improving safety and capacity of Milford Road in the township in accordance with the West Oakland Safety Corridor Study;
• Providing improved delineation and curve improvements on Duck Lake Road north of M-59, Harvey Lake Road north of M-59, and Kingsway east of Harvey Lake Road;
• Paving Clyde Road;
• Improving maintenance on or paving Eagle Road;
• Improving Duck Lake Road as a RRR project to accommodate increased traffic;
• Improving the intersection of Wardlow Road at Harvey Lake Road to eliminate the potential of running off the road; and
• Paving Lone Tree Road.
Commerce seeks more roundabouts,
widenings, paving of various roads
Officials from Commerce Township provided a list of strategic projects to the RCOC, with several items being marked at priority items. Among them are the following:
• Widening Union Lake Road to five lanes from Richardson to Commerce roads;
• Constructing roundabouts at M-5 and Pontiac Trail — although that project was recently completed — and at Sleeth and Wixom roads;
• Paving Cooley Lake Road;
• A culvert is needed due to road sinking on South Commerce Road at Dodge Park No. 5; and
• Installing a light at the intersection of Pontiac Trail and Walnut Lake Road.
Supervisor Tom Zoner and Township Planner Kathleen Jackson met with RCOC officials earlier this year to update the township’s road project wish list.
Zoner said he “absolutely” found value in this process.
Other projects included on the list were:
• Widening Commerce Road between Carroll Lake and Union Lake roads;
• Widening Haggerty Road from Richardson to 14 Mile Road;
• Adding a roundabout at Haggerty Road and Pontiac Trail; and
• Paving Commerce Road from Carroll Lake Road to Union Lake Road.
Those projects most likely to be carried out in the relative near future include paving Cooley Lake and widening Commerce Road between Carroll Lake and Union Lake roads.
“Commerce Road is slated for a 2012 RRR project, while there’s already funding for Cooley Lake Road, which was originally slated to be completed in 2011. But there were delays. The money has already been allocated for the project. We’re just shifting the calendar year.”
One project down, several more
to go in White Lake Township
White Lake Township Supervisor Greg Baroni said he believes meeting with the RCOC during the strategic planning process is beneficial.
“It’s a good time to sit down and communicate,” he said. “I think communication is a great tool.”
The township will be seeing the completion of a project that has been on its road improvement wish list for quite some time now.
“M-59 through White Lake, we are just finishing that stretch as far as a new asphalt covering,” Baroni said. “It has been on the wish list for quite some time and should be completed totally by Nov. 15.”
White Lake Township’s road project wish list includes the following:
• Paving Cooley Lake Road from Bogie Lake Road to Carey Road;
• Paving Cedar Island Road from Oxbow Lake Road to Ford Road;
• Realigning Elizabeth Lake Road at Williams Lake Road;
• Paving Pontiac Lake Road from the end of its pavement north of M-59 to Teggerdine Road;
• Cutting down a hill along Cedar Island Road at McGrue to improve sight distance;
• Signalizing Ormond Road at Jackson Boulevard, or considering construction of a roundabout; and
• Improving drainage or installing a flashing signal at Jackson and Ormond roads.
Staff writers Angela Niemi and Michael Shelton contributed to this report.