Road Commission awaits funding to fix Occidental/Valley corridor

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Potholes near the intersection of Valley Road and Occidental Highway. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.

Lenawee County Road Commission crews were out early Thursday morning, March 28, working on the many potholes that have developed on the Valley Road/Occidental Highway corridor in Raisin Township between Adrian and Tecumseh.

“What we’re doing is trying to hold that road together for the next couple of years until we can get the money to fix it,” said Scott Merillat, Managing Director of the Lenawee County Road Commission. The potholes forming on the roadway have been getting worse each year, he said, especially with the freeze-thaw cycles.

The Lenawee County Road Commission recently had a discussion about roads that should be repaired if the state were to come up with between $1.2 and $1.6 billion through such proposals as raising repair funds through increased gas taxes or registration fees. The commissioners listed Occidental Highway as one of its top picks, and a total repaving would cost at least $600,000.

“It’s the highest traveled road we have in the county, by far,” said Merillat of the approximate five-mile stretch of roadway linking M-52 with Russell Road in Tecumseh. “We know that 12,000 cars a day travel that stretch, and a normal primary road would get 2,000 to 4,000 cars, so it’s up to three times the traffic,” said Merillat. “It’s been on our radar for a couple of years now. The problem is, when you start talking about a project with a minimum $600,000 out of a construction budget of around $1.5 million, that’s a big chunk out of our county-wide funding for primary roads that cover just over 400 miles, and it’s spread out. It’s a balancing act choosing which ones will get fixed.”

Merillat said there are roads in the county that haven’t received any work for the past 30 years or so.

“We do know that we can’t seal coat Occidental anymore. It needs to be paved, but it’s a costly thing,” he said. “Once it becomes too expensive to keep patching, we’re going to have to do something while trying not to take money away from something else we’ve planned for that year.”

He said the county utilizes state and federal grants to the extent possible, and there are often matching funds that go along with those — all at a time when revenues continue to shrink. State legislators have talked about ways that county road commissions could receive more funding, but nothing has materialized yet. And state officials are asking county road commissions not only to account for how they are spending existing funds, but what they would do if more were made available.

“Everybody agrees that, yes, we have a problem,” said Merillat. “But nobody can agree on how to fix it. Nobody wants to pay more taxes and nobody wants to spend more money.” He said the problem is that money has to be invested in roads or they will reach a point where nothing can be done except to totally rebuild them with a higher price tag. And as roads deteriorate, the public has to invest more money in repairing their cars or replacing tires.

The Valley Road/Occidental corridor is the responsibility of the Lenawee County Road Commission, and Merillat said a sealant was put on in 2007 that included putting a layer down with stones over the top. “It wasn’t a major repair, just routine maintenance to protect it,” he said. Prior to that, work was done in 2002 when the road was milled, with the top layer of asphalt taken off and new asphalt put down. There was a 10-year guarantee on the road, and Merillat said just about at that 10-year mark last year, the pothole problem began to get worse.

“What we did on it 11 years ago was called cold-mill recycling where the machine basically chews asphalt up and more liquid asphalt is added to it, then you re-lay it back down,” he said. “The thought behind it was that it was recycling using materials that were already there and saving some cost. We think what’s happening now is that the material is just breaking down and it’s right where the wheel paths are, where the tires and the weight breaks it down.”

He said the potholes aren’t deep, which actually makes the patching harder because the patching material doesn’t hold. Earlier this season, crews tried some cold-patch, putting stones in the holes, but Merillat said it came right back out.

“We’re trying a different method of patching now called a ‘dura patcher,’ which sprays asphalt emulsion and stones. Basically, it builds the hole back up with stones,” he said. Motorists will find the roadway will still be a little rough over those areas because it’s not like a pavement patch. But it will help somewhat, Merillat said.

“Realistically, we’re just trying to hold the road together a little longer until we can find the money to pave it,” he said.




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