By Jef Rietsma
Brady Township residents, worried that their deteriorating paved roads may be converted back to gravel, voiced their concerns to the township’s Board of Trustees at a Sept. 1 meeting which included an annual update from the Road Commission of Kalamazoo County.
The concern in part stemmed from inclusion on the road commission’s five-year plan of half a mile of asphalt pavement on 33rd Street north from YZ Avenue to be pulverized and returned to a gravel road in 2022. The proposal also includes similar treatment for another half mile of 33rd St. from XY south in 2023.
The plan, covering years 2022 through 2026, proposes no other conversions of paved roads to unpaved gravel roads.
There was never a formal plan dealing with that part of 33rd St., Supervisor Tracy Locey said. She acknowledged that while 33rd is on the five-year plan, “It is not set in stone yet. There are some options that the township can consider … it’s just a plan at this point and it’s not in our contract for this year.”
The board after hearing from more than 20 residents about the possible pavement-to-gravel plans agreed to reinstate a township roads committee to review road needs, funding, and make recommendations to the township trustees.
Residents raised concerns about dust, safety due to an inability to stop quickly, health and quality of life, harm to vehicles and possible reduction of home values.
Scott Oswalt, a 33rd Street resident, said he and his neighbors formed a Facebook group called “Brady Residents for Better Roads.” He cautioned that any road converted from paved to gravel is going to create a new set of problems of their own.
“Dirt roads are hard to maintain, they’re muddy in the spring and fall and probably most of the winters, they’re dusty, they’re not able to be salted in the winter and they’re hard to plow,” he said. “I fear for the safety of our residents driving these gravel roads in the winter. My farm employees and I drive these roads every day in the winter … up and down hills, around corners. I request a pause on any plans until we can figure out what the heck we do.”
The roads committee will have three to five members. Those interested in serving can find a resident’s interest form on the township’s web site at bradytwp.org later in September.
Locey said the township takes road-related direction and guidance from the road commission. Still, she added, the five-member board of trustees has ultimate say in issues relevant to the roads under its jurisdiction.
“We can always say, ‘No, we think your plan is horrible, now go figure something else out,’” Locey said. “But right now, the township hasn’t taken any action as to what we’re going to do.”
Locey said the road commission has rated the stretch of 33rd Street using a formula and determined it to be in “extremely poor” condition.
“You no longer can just throw down asphalt or do that chip-seal like they did recently on Sprinkle Road, it’s well past that,” Locey said. “Unfortunately, Brady Township, along with every other township out there, has trouble with having enough money for roads.”
Locey said Brady Township is allocated about $90,000 annually from the road commission. The funds, however, are issued on a matching basis. So, to receive $90,000, Brady must put up $90,000. She said as far back as she can remember, Brady Township has always budgeted to meet the matching funds.
Locey said the township asked voters for a property tax dedicated to roads in 2002. It failed. “We don’t have that option (for road funding).”
She speculated the cost of tearing up the section of 33rd Street and reconstructing it would easily fall outside the township’s budget.
Locey said turning formerly paved roads into gravel routes is not unprecedented. She said examples can be found as close as nearby Wakeshma Township.
“I understand what the residents’ challenges are … they live on a road that was paved and now maybe it’s not going to be paved,” Locey said. “I understand their frustration. We had several members of that area attend our board meeting about a week ago and I know that they’ve also gone to some road commission meetings. But I think they feel like they’re not getting everything that they want. Unfortunately, I can’t just say, ‘I’m going to write the check and redo your road.’ It would be great if I could.”
The Road Commission’s managing director, Joanna Johnson, and its engineering and public relations director, Mark Worden, gave a half-hour presentation that covered all aspects of the agency, its funding and operations.
Johnson said the road commission is not trying to make life miserable for Brady Township residents. “We absolutely and totally agree with you that all roads matter and we all want the same thing,” Johnson said. “We don’t need to fight. We are actually here to work together.”
Johnson and Worden appeared to answer many of the questions residents had expressed earlier in the meeting.
Johnson said reestablishing the township’s road committee was a logical next step.
Worden noted Brady Township’s options are:
• Do nothing and continue operating with the same approach as it has the past 20 years.
• Apply a special assessment of each property on a project-by-project basis.
• Pass a township-wide special assessment.
• Offer a township road millage for voters to approve or reject.
By Jef Rietsma