‘Occidental is falling apart,’ director says
Lenawee County Road Commission Managing Director Scott Merillat had hoped to have crews back out on Occidental Highway the week of March 17 to begin hot patch work. Cold weather prevented that, however, crews began closing off the first segment of roadway to do some work on Monday morning, March 31. Work will continue from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until patching is completed, weather permitting.
“We’ve been patching out there since February 22,” Merillat said. “We’ve been out there cold patching quite often, but weren’t able to use the hot patch with emulsion and stone.” He said temperatures needed to be nearer to 50 degrees for that to work.
He estimates just to patch the road will cost at least $20,000 to $30,000.
Merillat said the Road Commission is doing something a little different this year. He said there are two hot patch trucks and one Dura-patcher with hot material they use, which can involve up to five individuals on a particular project.
“But with the volume of traffic Occidental has, we also need traffic control out there,” Merillat said, adding that the crews often spend as much time trying to be safe with traffic going around them as they do working on the patching. He said instead, the plan is to have up to 15 employees working on a section of roadway that will be closed off.
“The problem is, if we’re working there, we’re not working anywhere else in the county,” Merillat said, “but I think if we do close it by sections and have everybody there, there will be fewer traffic and safety problems.” He said he thought the job could be completed within about a week, pending weather that cooperates.
“Occidental Highway is our highest profile road and it’s falling apart and full of potholes,” he said.
Merillat and others continue to pursue every possible avenue to obtain funding to address Occidental’s need to be repaved. Last year, the Road Commission received funding through a state grant for $375,000 of $750,000 that will be needed to do five miles of the roadway in 2015. They still have to find matching funds. The Road Commission had applied for funding last year only to learn that the state decided to spend $1.2 million to repave M-52 between Valley Road and M-50 rather than Occidental.
Merillat said application has been made through a Small Urban Grant, which can include projects from Adrian, Tecumseh and Clinton as well as Lenawee Transportation, Dial-a-Ride and the Lenawee County Road Commission.
“We met as a group and decided that our first priority is the South half of Occidental Hwy.,” he said, “and the number two priority is the North half. Even then, the money we are looking at would be 2015 money.”
Occidental Highway remains on the list that’s sent to the state, Merillat said, including consideration for $100 million of excess state revenue that will likely be going for roads. It was announced over the weekend that the Road Commission would receive $450,000 of that money. Tecumseh is to receive $35,924, Clinton, $8,966 and Britton, $2,514.
“But that will go toward winter maintenance,” Merillat said. “We’re now around $600,000-$700,000 over budget, so that would pay for a portion of that.”
Merillat said an additional $115 million is currently being talked about through a legislative bill for a second round of distribution.
“At this point, our understanding is they will use the same list of projects as before, so Occidental is still on there, but what we don’t know is how they will determine which projects will be selected,” he said. “We have heard that counties that got funding in the last round might not get any this round, and because of the M-52 project, that may leave us out. But I’m holding hope out, because that money would be available immediately. If we got that, we’d quickly get it out to bid and done. But April is almost here and construction season is coming up quickly. We applied for $1.3 million, so if we could get that, we’d do the whole project at the same time — and this one would have no match.”
Merillat pointed out that all people have to do is drive Occidental Hwy. to see how horrible the condition is.
“We have a lot of support and I would suggest that people keep up those calls and letters to Senator [Bruce] Caswell and Rep. [Nancy] Jenkins,” he said. “It might help to have people who are experiencing tire damage call rather than them hearing the same old stuff from me. It’s important for them to hear from the people who drive it so I encourage them to keep contacting their legislators.”