Source: Sherman Publications

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RCOC spends 4 days plowing subs

by CJ Carnacchio

January 15, 2014

"They wait forever to plow back here."

That was Oxford resident Shana Smelser's assessment of the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) when it comes to clearing snow in the Brabb-Dewey subdivision, just north of Stony Lake.

"I understand that we had a terrible snowstorm, but we've had people trapped back here for days," she said. "I missed two days of work. My husband missed two days of work. It's so bad back here. You can't even get through. It's terrible."

Smelser, who lives on Roy Rd., was upset with the road commission's response to the 12-plus inches of snow that got dumped on Oxford during the Jan. 4-5 winter storm.

She feels like her subdivision, which consists of Roy, Brabb, Dewey and Ora roads, consistently gets neglected by the RCOC.

"Nothing gets done," Smelser said. "I've been fighting about this for six years. I just don't know what else to do."

She said she's repeatedly called the road commission, but received no response.

Her big concern was a fire truck or ambulance not being able to reach the subdivision's houses in the event of an emergency. "Who's liable if something happens to somebody?" Smelser said.

RCOC Spokesman Craig Bryson reported the Brabb-Dewey subdivision was plowed on Friday, Jan. 10.

"It's not the prettiest thing in the world," he said. "There were a ton of cars parked along the road that (the plow truck) had to go around, so there's a lot of clean up left to do in there, but at least the road itself is plowed."

This reporter drove through the Brabb-Dewey subdivision around 5 p.m. Friday and verified that it had been cleared.

Bryson indicated the last of all the subdivision roads under the county's jurisdiction were cleared Jan. 10.

"Now, I suspect there may be one or two we missed here and there (because) the (private snow plow) contractors (hired by the county) weren't familiar with (them)," he noted. "We may have a straggler here or there we've got to take care of, but for now, I think the vast majority of them, if not all of them, are done."

The road commission started plowing the subdivisions on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 7. The day before was spent clearing the main roads. "We've been working literally around the clock for days and days trying to get this cleaned up," Bryson said,

He explained the RCOC was able to plow the subdivisions "a lot faster" than usual because it got "creative." The county hired private contractors and utilized road commission vehicles and personnel not typically assigned to plowing duties.

For example, some staff from the RCOC's electrical division, which maintains traffic signals and other electronic traffic-control devices, used smaller plow trucks in subdivisions.

"Unquestionably it's allowed us to provide a much higher level of service," Bryson said. "It's going to cost us a lot when all is said and done, but it's certainly allowed us to get things done much more quickly. It would have taken us at least a couple of days longer to get into all the subs (without the additional manpower)."

Using private contractors and other county vehicles/personnel in the subdivisions also allowed the RCOC to keep some plow trucks on the main roads a little longer, which improved their condition.

"Frankly, we're hearing from a lot of people that the main roads in Oakland County are in a lot better shape than in surrounding counties," Bryson said.

Bryson said he understands where residents like Smelser are coming from and why they're so upset. "It's a pain if you can't get out of your house," he said. "It is frustrating if you can't get out of your neighborhood."

"We understand their frustration, but we hope they understand that this was an historic storm," Bryson continued. "It simply takes time to get around to clean up. We had a lot of clean up on the main roads."

Bryson assured that no subdivisions or communities are purposely neglected by the road commission despite some citizens' perceptions.

He recently had an Addison Township resident call him and accuse road commission personnel of avoiding that community and spending all of their time in Oxford.

"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I suppose," Bryson said.

Bryson noted the road commission is "trying to be fair to everybody" when it comes to providing services, but it's difficult to do that when, for example, the agency has 35 percent less staff than it did in 2007.

"We're struggling to maintain the level of service with far older equipment and far fewer staff," he said. "The reality is we're not providing enough service for anyone anywhere, but we're trying to do the best we can in all communities as evenly as we can."

The use of private contractors and other RCOC vehicles and personnel for plowing is something that will only be done when dealing with the aftermath of large winter storms, not typical snowfalls, according to Bryson.

With any snowfall, the RCOC's top priority is clearing the main roads due to their heavier traffic volume and higher speeds.

Subdivision roads are the lowest priority because they carry the least amount of traffic and the slowest moving traffic.

"It is taking us longer to get into subs these days because we have fewer employees and our trucks are older and they break down more often," Bryson said. "That's part of the new budgetary reality we're facing."