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The secret to fair roads in Barry County

Greg Chandler

Staff Writer

            Barry County Road Commission officials subscribe to the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

            That translates into an emphasis on a process known as chip sealing, where small cracks that have formed on a paved road are treated to extend the life of the road surface.

            “We put a thin seal over the top of (the asphalt), which preserves it,” said Road Commissioner Frank Fiala of Yankee Springs Township.

            The asphalt is covered immediately with aggregate and then rolled over to seal the crack and keep out the moisture that can cause further deterioration of the road surface, eventually leading to more costly repairs down the road.

            “We've been a big proponent of it over the years,” said Road Commission Chairman David Solmes of Carlton Township. “That's why our roads are in so much better condition compared to everybody else's.”

            The process typically extends the life of a paved road by six to eight years, Solmes said.

            According to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council, which maintains a database on road conditions throughout the state, 39.6 percent of Barry County's roads were considered in “good” condition in 2018, the last year such records are available, while another 47.7 percent of county roads were considered to be in “fair” condition. That's compared to a statewide figure of 21.1 percent of roads in “good” condition and 38.4 percent in “fair” condition.

            Chip sealing of county roads will be the primary emphasis of the Road Commission's 2020 budget.

            Commissioners Monday approved a $17.1 million budget for the year that includes $4.43 million in routine maintenance work on local roads and $4.09 million in similar work on more heavily-traveled roads throughout the county.

            Exactly how many miles of road surface will be improved will depend on prices the Road Commission receives early next year from contractors when it seeks bids on paving, asphalt and chip seal work.

            “It's an educated guess, based on last year's prices,” Road Commission Accounting Manager Chris BeBeau said.

            Over the past decade, the Road Commission has alternated between treating paved roads one year and gravel roads the next. In 2018, the last year paved roads were addressed, about 174 miles of roads were treated with sealcoat and another 46 miles received crack seal treatment, according to Road Commission documents.

            The amended Road Commission budget for this year stands at a little more than $14.7 million, including $5.68 million for local routine road maintenance and another $2.46 million for routine maintenance on primary roads.

            In addition to the road maintenance work planned for 2020, about $1.4 million is planned for primary road construction projects, with the brunt of that work being two bridge replacement projects: one on Charlton Park Road over the Little Thornapple River in Carlton Township, the other on North Avenue/6 Mile Road over Waubascon Creek in Assyria Township.

            Commissioners Monday approved signing a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation for those two projects.

            Road commissioners will meet with township officials next week to discuss in greater depth the projects planned for each township for 2020.

            “They come in here, and we do a township-specific presentation – a road condition report (and) recommendations,” Solmes said. “A lot of our townships are very generous in helping us do projects. We don't know at this point in time what their wishes will be.”

            Fiala says each township receives a report on its roads at these meetings.

            “It has all the history of when (the road) was created, when it was requested we do an overlay or do a seal coat, and when it was actually done,” Fiala said. “We have this detailed, township by township, every single segment that's paved, all detailed out, all prioritized with our recommendations.”

            The primary source of funding for the 2020 Road Commission budget – more than $8.18 million – comes from state gasoline, diesel and weight taxes. Another $2.2 million will come from federal grants and more than $2.13 million is expected to come from local townships.

            The Road Commission has jurisdiction over 345 miles of primary roads and 722 miles of local roads throughout Barry County. Of the local roads, 466 miles are unpaved, according to Road Commission documents.



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