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Township chips in for road improvements

March 19, 2014 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

In light of the recent state funds set aside to nurture Michigan's crumbling road system, Orion Township approved the allocation of $50,000 from their general fund at the†Monday night board meeting March 17 to tidy-up some of Orion's worst roads.

Township Supervisor Chris Barnett added the emergency-road-repair agenda item to the township's agenda and invited Road Commission for Oakland County Managing Director Dennis Kolar, and board member Eric Wilson to explain to the public what the heck is going on with road funding.

Not a seat was empty at the township board meeting as Kolar and Wilson explained the importance of Orion's stepping forward with the $50,000, and Oakland County's cut from a recent bill signed into law.

"Our engineers have told us that it's going to get way worse," Barnett said. "The frost is up to six feet deep, and when that thaws, we are going to be in a really desperate situation," he said.

The $50,000 was approved with a 4-1 vote with Trustee Donni Steele dissenting. Treasurer Mark Thurber was absent and excused.

Funds will be transferred from a township insurance account into the general fund for road repairs.

While the $50,000 is proposed as a band aid fix to the overall wound to address some of the 'hot spots' in Orion Township, it will be partially spent on laying additional gravel on Indian Lake Rd. and Clarkston Rd. east of M-24. Some could be bumped towards Central Drive as well.

"This would just allow us to get some above and beyond what the Road Commission already does," Barnett said.

Recent state funding

Of the $215 million allocation that passed through the house, senate and governor's office for immediate road improvements across Michigan on March 12, Oakland County will see about $6 to $7 million.

The state bill is separated into two projects.††The first is $100 million in emergency repairs related to the eventful winter, and the second is $115 million for "shovel-ready projects," or long-term projects that have been sent to the state by local road commission representatives and legislatures for consideration as part of the state's mid-fiscal year supplemental budget.

† Oakland County's first $3.6 million will come from the $100 million portion of the funding for emergency winter maintenance, or in other words, for pothole patrol.

†But, most of it is already gone.

"We're going to replenish our over time accounts, we have to pay for salt, fuel, cold-patch material that we are over-budget on, and of course we have to pay mechanics that are working overtime repairing equipment, and contractors to help with snow removal," Kolar said. "So by the time we go through all of that I'm not expecting there will be a surplus."

What it will do, however, is allow the Road Commission to continue to do the work that they had planned for the rest of the year. The Road Commission for Oakland County has already spent its $12 million winter budget on plowing, salting and patching—which could be closer to $15 million Kolar said— and is currently using summer funds to continue the winter attack.

The $115 million portion of state funding follows a formula dividing it up: 39.1 percent goes to the state, 39.1 percent to the counties, and the rest to local communities.

Here's where the state can sling the RCOC a few extra million. The RCOC qualifies for some of the 39.1 percent of state funding, Brad Jacobsen said, State Rep. for North Oakland County, because the state contracts RCOC for highway work such as I-75.

Proposed work

In order to divvy up the $115 million in "shovel ready" projects, legislatures and road commissions must submit prioritized road projects by county.

These projects must be determined by†July 1†or else the $115 million will be divided using the 39.1 percent formula. Also, if the legislature doesn't come up with a long term solution for a $100 million hole in a Health Insurance Claims Assessment (HICA) by†September 30, the reserve fund will be transferred to fill the HICA hole.

Oakland County submitted about $31 million in road projects in January well knowing it will see a fraction of that funding.

The Orion projects include three segments of Waldon: from Baldwin to Joslyn, from Joslyn to Giddings and from Giddings to M-24, about 3.3 miles of work costing about $4.1 million.

Jacobsen said he submitted the same projects as he did last year, the Waldon projects for Orion and West Burdick street for Oxford.

"They are projects that are well engineered, thought out and ready to go," Jacobsen said. "This money is supposed to be spent this construction season, we don't want people to hold onto it for future projects," he said.

What else about roads

In order to determine project priorities and cost assessment, The Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council Data developed a Paser Rating system to analyze Oakland County roads.

As of today, 13 percent of Oakland County Roads are rated 'poor' (rated 0-3),†54 percent are considered 'fair' (rated 4-5) and 33 percent are termed 'good' (rated 6-10).

By 2016 the 'poor' roads could grow to 33 percent without any additional revenue from the Michigan Transportation Fund, under-funded by an estimate of nearly $1.2 billion.

The $215 million in state funds are only a one year fix for Michigan to allow road commissions, counties and state agencies to rough out the rest of the year.††

Just this past†Monday†has the RCOC been able to switch from full-time winter maintenance to pot-hole patching.

"Today we are finally able to take a break. We were out on Newman Rd., Indian Lake Rd., and Waldon, putting down RAP (Recycled Asphalt Pavement) and smoothing it out," Kolar said.

RCOC's road system is more than 1,000 miles larger than Wayne or Macomb's county road systems and operated by 357 employees (down almost 200 since 2007). In the seven closest communities to Orion, 16 drivers are in charge of plowing, with the RCOC being down about 60 plow drivers.

The RCOC is responsible for 2,700 county roads. More than 750 miles of Oakland County roads are gravel, and will remain gravel for years.

Of the $16 million the RCOC receives a year in federal aid—which terminates this fall—only $1.5 million is dedicated for paving gravel roads. Ironically enough, it costs $1.5 million to pave one mile of gravel.

If Orion taxpayers want their gravel roads paved, they are going to have to do it themselves.

Three Orion subdivisions were paved last year through a special assessment on those subdivisions, including Royal Troon, Long Lake Woods and Shores of Long Lake.

Special assessments are either payable in one lump sum, or over ten years. Royal Troon's homeowners will pay a total of $2,425; Long Lake Woods owners will pay $3,324.48; Shores of Long Lake residents will pay $2,315.33.

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