Street Talk

Street Talk: Kent County investing half of what the roads need

History lesson.

April 24, 2015
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So says the acting head of the Kent County Road Commission. But he is proud of Kent County roads, so when asked what the roads will be like in the future if Proposal 1 fails May 5, Steve Warren says just take a look at the roads elsewhere in Michigan.

And, if voters do turn it down, added Warren, he hopes the Legislature will promptly take action to restore a level of funding to get all Michigan roads up to snuff.

The KCRC is responsible for 1,957 miles of county roads and 436 miles of state highways (for which it is reimbursed by MDOT). Kent County has 172 bridges, none of which are deemed structurally deficient. The organization employs 232 people — it was 259 in 2004.

Warren presented a State of the Kent County Roads report to the County Board of Commissioners last week, which included a graph of the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating, or PASER, of the county’s primary roads, showing the deterioration since 2005.

The PASER system in use across the U.S. visually rates the road surface, analyzing video shot from a PASER truck. In 2005, Kent County Roads were 21 percent “good,” 62 percent “fair” and 17 percent “poor.” Fast-forward to 2014, when the ratings were 17 percent, 48 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

In 2004, when Michigan Transportation Fund revenue for roads peaked, 89 percent of KCRC roads were in good and fair condition. By 2015, that was about 65 percent, and diesel fuel — KCRC uses more than 400,000 gallons a year — had increased in price by 260 percent. The increases in road salt and asphalt costs were 140 percent and 110 percent, respectively.

Today KCRC predicts the revenue increase from a successful Proposal 1 would put all of its roads in 87 percent good and fair condition by 2024. If Proposal 1 fails to pass and there is no revenue increase, that number will be 49 percent.

Proposal 1 would raise $1.2 billion a year from transportation in Michigan; the Kent County increase would eventually reach $21 million a year, and the county’s cities and villages would have $11 million more for their streets.

Warren said the county would increase its road improvements budget by 75 percent, or $16 million a year, and the maintenance budget would go up 25 percent, or $5 million a year. About 50 to 60 miles of Kent County roads will slip into “poor” condition if Proposal 1 fails, he noted.

Commissioner Stan Ponstein expressed doubts about the cable guardrails and illuminated digital signs for road information, paid for with federal road money. He asked Warren if there are “strings attached” to the funding.

Warren replied he had discussed the cable guardrails in particular with the head of MDOT and was told they have proven to save lives — which Warren added he was not going to question.

Road work

As Gov. Rick Snyder approached the podium for a word of welcome during the Michigan Women’s Foundation’s annual celebration of women of achievement and courage, he was instructed by foundation CEO Carolyn Cassin not to use the stage time to stump for the May 5 road-repair vote.

Snyder instead took the opportunity to talk about women entrepreneurs, sexual assault awareness, STEM education, and more women serving on the state’s various boards and commissions.

Having delivered his message, the governor shot Cassin a grin.

“After I leave here today, I’m going to change into my jeans and work boots and go fill some potholes.”

That’s a typical male: never doing what he’s told.

Not funny

Volunteering in the community is always appreciated. But is it always effective?

In addition to delivering a message that touched on all types of discrimination, Rachel Chong, the Michigan Women’s Foundation’s keynote speaker and founder/CEO of nonprofit Catchafire, shared the story about how her organization, which matches volunteers’ skills with projects in a community, came into being.

Upon graduating from college, she took a job in investment banking. Shortly after, Chong took part in a company volunteer effort to build a house for a needy family.

“They put 100 bankers on a bus and took us out there,” she said. “I found myself, hammer in hand, with no idea what to do.”

Those bankers put up a house and left for the day feeling a sense of accomplishment.

“I found out it was torn down the next day and rebuilt by people with construction skills,” she said. “I was livid.

“Those 100 bankers could have made a difference with their financial skills as volunteers — but not that way.”

She couldn’t believe there wasn’t a single organization that matched volunteers’ skills with community needs. “So I built Catchafire for people to volunteer to their highest and best use,” Chong said.

Building leaders

It’s not quite class president, but it’s still a nice honor.

As part of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s Center for Community Leadership program, participants in the last 30 years of Leadership Grand Rapids are being asked to select someone from their “class” to be honored Thursday during an event at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids.

Leadership Grand Rapids is a nine-month program that gives emerging leaders an “immersion” in the Grand Rapids community, including its civic, social, cultural and economic issues and opportunities. In the process, it hones leadership skills and better prepares participants to play a key role in moving the city and the region forward through networking, collaborations and civic responsibility.

The class of 1992 selected Marlin Feyen, co-founder of Feyen Zylstra. He has served on numerous civic and administrative boards, as well as several area nonprofit organizations including YMCA’s Camp Manitou-Lin, Inner City Christian Federation, Home Repair Services and Grand Rapids Arts Council.

Feyen, who formed his company along with Bob Zylstra in 1980, has a strong commitment to “servant leadership.” This can be seen in his favorite quote on the subject, credited to George Yeoman Pocock, famed designer and builder of crew racing shells: “Where is the spiritual value of rowing? … The losing of self entirely to the cooperative effort of the crew as a whole.”

Let’s be civil

Were you or members of your community, church or family involved in the Grand Rapids Civil Rights movement? Students and instructors at Kent Innovation High School want to speak to you.

Kent Innovation is a project-based learning school that encourages students to learn through real-world, authentic projects. The school has students from all 20 public school districts in Kent County.

“We are particularly interested in the 1967 riot, the march on Division Avenue, the closing of South High School with the forced integrated busing, and people who experienced discrimination with housing,” said Mike Kaechele, who with fellow instructor Andrew Holly will lead the project.

The goal is to create a walking tour of Grand Rapids’ civil rights history that includes videos and podcasts. If you can help, call the high school at (616) 363-8010.

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