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Road fix turned down for fed. funds – again

Oxford Village DPW workers Tom McNeese (left) and Rich Sands patch potholes along W. Burdick Street's cemetery hill. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio (click for larger version)
February 19, 2014 - It looks like the Oxford Village Department of Public Works will have to continue laying plenty of cold patch along the portion of W. Burdick St. known as cemetery hill because there won't be any federal aid to help fix it.

For the fourth consecutive year, Oxford's request to the Oakland County Federal Aid Committee (FAC) for funds to repair and improve a 0.34-mile (or 1,795-foot) stretch of road was rejected.

The project would have extended from Ashley Way in the village to S. Waterstone Dr. in the township.

The village's portion of the road is badly-deteriorated and filled with a multitude of vehicle-rattling pot holes. The municipality doesn't have enough funds to pay for a fix on its own.

"It's going to get worse," said village Manager Joe Young during last week's council meeting. "As it warms up, it's going to get worse."

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn told council he's been receiving complaints from Waterstone residents upset about the poor condition of the village's section.

"They've even suggested having you just mill up (the asphalt surface) and put a dirt road in there because it's so bad," he said.

"I'm getting a lot of calls, too," added Young.

With a total project cost of $378,056, the village had applied for $302,445 in federal funding to be matched by $75,611 in local funding.

Although the federal funds wouldn't have been available until 2017, under this program, the village could have done the project now using borrowed monies, for example, then repaid itself later with federal funds.

The village's proposed project consisted of pulverizing in place the existing asphalt and resurfacing the road; constructing and connecting new drainage structures to the existing storm sewer system; lowering cemetery hill by 2 feet; installing curb and gutter; and widening the road from 22 to 24 feet.

The total project cost submitted this year was much lower than the $558,310 estimate in last year's application to the FAC. That one requested $446,648 in federal funding to be matched with $111,662 in local funding.

"The savings between the two submittals was primarily the difference in cost between resurfacing the road and reconstructing the road everywhere, except through cemetery hill where it is to be reconstructed (in both applications) due to lowering it the 2 feet," explained village engineer Rob Lavoie, president of the Pontiac-based Nowak & Fraus Engineers.

Simply resurfacing the road isn't enough to deal with the problem long-term.

A drainage fix is needed, too.

"The drainage work's very important because that affects the longevity of the road," Lavoie said. "I wouldn't want to be part of an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a road and then, three years later, you've got failures . . . You've got to look very carefully at drainage as a part of any road improvement project."

When asked if the lack of proper drainage is the cause of W. Burdick Street's poor condition, Lavoie replied, "It's contributed to it without a doubt.

"There's poor longitudinal and lateral drainage along the roadway," he explained. "Water tends to, rather than sheet-drain off into the ditches, it stands on the pavement, it stands on the edges of the shoulder and contributes to failures of the pavement."

The expected service life of an asphalt road is 15 to 20 years "and then it just starts to come apart," according to Lavoie. "But in some cases, if you have poor drainage, then you're not even going to get the 15 or 20 years; you're going to get more like five or 10 (years). And then you're in there doing a patch job on it."

Most of the projects chosen by the FAC to receive federal funding in 2017 are located in southern Oakland communities such as Southfield, Ferndale, Novi, Oak Park, Birmingham and Farmington Hills.

"The rating formulas that they use, in my opinion, are weighted to benefit the urban communities that have more traffic and wider roads," Lavoie said.

The FAC is made up of 14 members, including two from the Road Commission for Oakland County, one from the Michigan Department of Transportation, one from the SMART bus system and 10 representing the 61 cities, villages and townships in the county.

Lavoie hopes that at some point, the formulas used to determine how these federal dollars are disbursed will be reevaluated "not only from a standpoint of spreading the wealth," but because there are, in his opinion, "some discrepancies in the way that the funding's available for the less affluent communities."

"For example, there's provisions where a community that is willing to pay more match (funds) towards a project gets additional points," he explained. "Some communities are flush and will pay more match, get additional points and get the federal funds. Some communities that don't have the match (dollars) can't get those additional points."

The village will continue to seek outside funding sources because virtually everyone agrees a long-term solution needs to be found for W. Burdick St.

"This piecemeal patching thing isn't going to last for long, so we need to have a very powerful plan in place here," said Councilman Elgin Nichols. "To patch it, put a band-aid on it, is not going to work."

Young told council that state Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford) is "actively pursuing" obtaining funding for this road project.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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