Construction and Government

Road commission and townships work together

Lack of state funding keeps commission from making improvements.

August 16, 2013
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In a time of declining state revenues and increasing costs for materials and fuel, Steve Warren sees a bright spot in his job as managing director for the Kent County Road Commission. And it’s one that may only shine here.

“I dare say we do have the best relationship with townships in the state,” said Warren recently to county commissioners.

“The relationship the road commission maintains with the townships won’t be found anywhere else in the state,” added Commissioner Roger Morgan.

The county road commission is responsible for maintaining nearly 2,000 miles of roads, and nine years ago Warren said only about 10 percent were in poor condition. But today, 34 percent of the county’s 660 miles of primary roads are in poor condition and another third of the 1,300 miles of local roads are in the same bad state.

Warren said townships have stepped forward to help the commission with its mission; collectively, the county’s 21 townships are contributing $2.5 million annually for road work. That financial support has come at an opportune time for the commission.

“The Kent County Road Commission is operating at the same funding levels since the 1990s,” he said, adding the current budget is $49.1 million. “The condition of our road system is declining and it will continue to decline.”

Warren said the agency had an average annual budget of $54.2 million from 2002 through 2006. However, the average budget has been $48.5 million since 2008, or about 11 percent less over the past six years. He said the loss of revenue has turned the road commission into a maintenance organization that doesn’t make the improvements it once did because it doesn’t have the same funds.

Warren said maintaining the county’s roads also has become more difficult because the cost of materials and price of fuel have risen.

“We actually share equipment with two counties — Barry and Muskegon counties,” he said, doing that as a way to curb expenses.

“We do share some equipment with Ottawa County, but not as much as with Barry and Muskegon counties,” said Jerry Byrne, KCRC director of maintenance and local construction.

The primary source of revenue for the road commission is the Michigan Transportation Fund, which gets its cash from the state fuel tax and registration fees.

Gov. Rick Snyder has asked legislators to increase road funding by $1.5 billion. If that ever happens, Warren said the commission would receive about another $20 million a year from the Michigan Transportation Fund, and roughly half of that would go toward making improvements.

“We are keeping up to speed with any innovations in the industry,” he added.

The road commission also maintains 1,100 miles of state roads in the county. Across the state, Warren said 36 percent of these roads are in poor condition.

“While we are similar statewide, we are better than most counties in the state. We’ve been recognized nationally for our pavement preservation,” he said. “But without the resources for that pavement preservation program, the best laid plans go awry. It’s no different than changing the oil in your car.”

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