Source: Sherman Publications

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Road commission warns of rough roads ahead

March 20, 2013

The Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) warns motorists that some gravel roads in the county have already become rough and others are likely to become more difficult to navigate in the coming days, as temperatures continue to rise during the day, but dip below freezing on some nights. The same temperature fluctuations are also expected to continue to cause a rash of potholes on paved roads across the county.

"This is a difficult time of year when it comes to gravel roads and potholes. Both are likely to be challenging to navigate," explained RCOC Managing Director Dennis Kolar. He noted the frequent temperature swings combined with sporadic rain and snow, at the same time that the ground is thawing, result in very unstable gravel roads.

"When it warms up quickly, there is nowhere for the snow melt or rain water to go, because the ground remains partially frozen. Consequently, the gravel roads turn to mud, and there is little we can do to them. Then, when the temperatures drop quickly, this soup-like mud, with its serious ruts, freezes. The end result is a very rough ride," Kolar explained.

"Our graders are out on the gravel roads, but they are only able to cut through the top two inches or so of the road that are not frozen. They can't cut through the still-frozen sub-surface," he added.

Because the temperature is expected to drop below freezing at night this week, the roads are expected to remain at least partially frozen, which means they will be difficult to grade. The only thing RCOC can do at that point is to put down new gravel in the worst spots. However, this is a very labor-intensive, time-consuming and costly process.

"We can and will improve as many of the worst areas as we can by putting down new material," Kolar said. "But, because we have almost 800 miles of gravel roads, we simply don't have the resources to treat every location."

That means many gravel roads could remain rough until the weather warms up enough to allow RCOC to regularly grade the roads. It is not clear when that is likely to happen.

"We're doing the best we can, given the conditions and our resources, but please bear with us. We appreciate the public's patience at this time of year," Kolar said.

Potholes are a similar situation. Current and recent weather conditions have been ideal for the formation of potholes, with temperatures frequently fluctuating from above to below freezing and back.

"We are out patching potholes every day we aren't responding to snow and ice. The public can help by letting us know when they see potholes that need patching," Kolar added.

Anyone can report a pothole to RCOC by calling the Road Commission's Department of Customer Services toll free at 877-858-4804. Potholes can also be reported online via RCOC's Web site, (click on "Contact Us").