Road Commission Has Big Responsibilities

road-comm-workers
Employees of the Kalamazoo County Road Commission gathered for their yearly portrait. Joanna Johnson, managing director is seated third from the left.

By Sue Moore

“We never know when the snow is going to stop,” said Bill DeYoung, maintenance superintendent at the Kalamazoo County Road Commission. It’s his job to decide when to call in the team that plows county roads, a decision that could cost as much as $65,000 on a Saturday or Sunday.

He does get advance weather warnings from the National Weather Service, but there is always lake effect snow that keeps lingering. In December, his road crews were out a lot, working 16 to 17 straight days, 12-hour shifts as heavy snow fell on consecutive weekends to cause several days of school cancellations.

“The schools are well versed in the road commission’s priorities for plowing,” DeYoung said.

Crews start with main thoroughfares. In south county, that means VW Avenue from Schoolcraft to Vicksburg and W Avenue from Fulton to Portage Road, both starting from east to west. The two north and south routes are 24th Street (better known as Sprinkle Road and Silver Street), Portage Road from W to the Mandigo Road at the Portage city limits.

The second level for plowing is primary roads, then local roads, until they finally arrive at the sub-divisions and platted streets. Over a year’s time they might use 6,000 tons of salt and 6,000 tons of sand, costing $50 a ton for salt and $3 to $4 for sand. The trucks spread this mixture on hills, curves and intersections first, with straight salt only when they need to melt ice quickly.

The snow plows are computerized in order to spread 250 lbs. per mile on back roads and 300 lbs. on main roads. The driver has an interactive screen in the cab that uses fancy technology, DeYoung said.

Snow plowing is just one of many responsibilities of the road commission. It works closely with townships to determine priorities for resurfacing in the summer and repairing throughout the year. Joanna Johnson, managing director, and Mark Worden, project superintendent, made a presentation to the Brady Township board in the fall. They stressed the partnership with the township’s needs in setting priorities and how they could help fulfill those needs on the local roads, the ones that the township is responsible to pay for through its cost-sharing policy with the county.

“Our goal is to maintain a county road system that is safe and convenient for public travel and to manage the roadside environment, with a view toward preservation,” according to the agency’s web site.

“The Road Commission of Kalamazoo County (RCKC) maintains 1,267 miles of road throughout the 576-square-mile county. The primary road system consists of 449 miles; the remaining 818 miles comprise the local system. Along with our maintenance operations, we maintain 61 bridges, over 21,595 signs, 48 traffic signals and 41 flashing lights at intersections,” Johnson told the township board.

“Working with other governmental units, we work hard to locate and maximize every dollar available for infrastructure maintenance and construction,” Worden said. “Even though the new gas tax legislation will bring more dollars to the county, it still isn’t enough. We are not doing any expansion; we are just holding what we have together until we see whether the promised increases come through.”

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