Commissioner Shares What People Should Know about the Roads

Commissioner Shares What People Should Know about the Roads

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 3, 2018)

Waterford, MI- What should people know when it comes to the roads?  The Road Commissioner for Oakland County Ron Fowkes and RCOC Manager Dennis Kolar joined members of the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce recently for breakfast and to share a bit about the work they do.

“The thing about roads is nothing we do can be hidden, you’re going to walk on it, ride on it, or drive on it,” Fowkes said. And because roads are a crucial part of life for every Oakland County Resident, the administration is kept as far away from politics as possible while still holding public accountability.

Fowkes explained that Road Commissioners are appointed by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners for six year terms. There are three appointees. And while they oversee things like the budget, the department is professionally managed and decisions are not based on politics, but on safety, need and funding.

FACTS

Some facts about Oakland County Roads:

~There are 420 employees at the RCOC.  In 1960 there were over 500.

~The RCOC has a $155 million budget for 2019.

~There are 2,700 miles of roads in Oakland County.

~760 roads are still gravel, which is more expensive to maintain.

~There are 230 miles of state highways in Oakland County.

~There are 26 roundabouts in Oakland County, and more to come because the data shows that they save lives.

~97% of all traffic signals are maintained by RCOC.

~Over 150,000 road signs are maintained by RCOC on roads they manage, so much so that there is a full time director to manage their maintenance, repair and replacements.

~It costs about $1/4 million to do spot resurfacing and sealing on roads, and about $3.5 million per mile for new concrete roads to be built.  It costs about $2 million to take an existing gravel road and convert it to asphalt.

~There are 106 heavy trucks that do road work, grating, salting, and snowplowing in the county.

~When all trucks are in use, it costs about $25,000 per hour

WHY ARE THE ROADS SO BAD?

Most people wanted to know why the roads in Michigan are so bad.  Fowkes explained that from 1997-2015 there was not any increase in road funding by the state, not even to adjust for inflation.  “Every year inflation is about 3%, costs go up, but funding stayed the same,” he said.

A new law passed in 2015 is intended to generate $1.2 billion annually to be shared among communities across the state.  “It’s a start,” Fowkes said.  “But we need about $3 billion.” Another problem, he added, is that only half of the money generated is guaranteed. The other half comes from the General Fund.  “So we may not see it,” he said.

There is also just a lot to tackle.  “There are over 600 roads in poor condition,” he said.  On top of that, Fowkes said “for years we didn’t add gravel to dirt roads. So many got to be just mud. We’ve been adding more gravel to build up these roads.”

In Michigan the per capita investment in roads is about $200 a year.  In other states it’s about $400.

Another problem is that the RCOC needs about $25 million to invest in new equipment.  With vehicles that break down, and a shortage of vehicles, it prevents them from clearing roads during snow as quickly as possible, removing debris due to storms, and getting workers out to fix broken signals.

“Every time we get a thunderstorm or snow we think, okay, what’s going to fail,” he said.

QUALITY OF CONSTRUCTION

Several members of the audience spoke of how “back in the day” road held up longer than they do now. Fowkes explained that proper maintenance is the difference, not the quality of work.

“We test all materials before they go in,” he said. “Asphalt must come from a certified pit. There are penalties for contractors if they don’t meet standards. To get it to last you need to maintain it. For about seven years we couldn’t even afford to do crack sealing, and that makes a difference in making roads last longer.”

The increased funding from the state is starting to make a difference.  In 2017 there were 46 miles of new road surface from $64 million in work.  In 2018 the number is 94 miles from $93 million in work.

SAFETY

Safety is the number one priority of the RCOC.  “Every year we look at our intersections and links based on the number of accidents and severity,” Fowkes said.

Having an emphasis on safe roads and intersections has greatly reduced the number of serious injuries and deaths.  In 1967 there were 206 fatalities on Oakland County Roads.  In 2016, with a much higher population of people, there were only 80.

Safer vehicles, safer roads, and stringent enforcement of drunk driving laws and other traffic laws have led to the decrease. However, deaths are starting to increase due to cell phone usage and distracted driving.  “If you look down for 2 or 3 seconds, your whole life can change,” he said.

TECHNOLOGY

Another area where staff focuses energy is in keeping up with new technologies, and even social media.  In several areas streetlights are equipped with cameras that count cars and operate the lights based on the need and flow of traffic in real time.  They also help save time and resources by giving RCOC staff insight into those intersections without having to send a truck out when there are problems.

Social media has been another tool for the RCOC. Fowkes praised the social media director for helping get the word out about construction and traffic problems, as well as critical issues like texting and driving.

Members of the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce had questions about the local streets near them, and were glad to have questions answered. The RCOC goes to each community once a year for strategic meetings with municipal staff and the public, and those meetings will take place beginning in January.

To learn more about Road Commission for Oakland County, including locations and details of construction projects, visit https://www.rcocweb.org/

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