Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Rough roads rile businesses, drivers

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By JORDAN TRAVIS
Capital News Service

LANSING – Richard Schmieding, the owner of Schmieding Sawmill in Shelby, doesn’t need a report to know that Oceana County’s roads are in rough shape.

The condition of his trucks is enough proof.

“Come drive any one of them,” he said. “They’re shook apart.”

Oceana ranks first among the state’s 83 counties for its percentage of federally aided roads with poor pavement conditions, and tenth for total lane-miles of rough roads.

The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association blamed declining state funding for the poor condition of 534 of 805 lane-miles of roads within the county.

Mason and Manistee counties also had higher-than-average percentages of bad roads. The report puts Mason as the fifth-worst in the state, with 323 of 669 lane-miles in poor condition, and Manistee as tenth with 333 of 756 lane-miles.

A lane-mile is the distance of a road measured in one lane. If a road has two lanes, then one mile of road would equal two lane miles. A four-lane road would have four lane-miles within that same mile.

Mike Nystrom, the association’s vice president of government and public relations, said the fact that these counties have a high proportion of lane-miles in poor condition doesn’t mean that the county road commissions are at fault.

“Our hopes of putting out this information is not to make any of the road agencies look bad, because they are doing everything they can with the resources they have available,” he said. “They’re stretched very thin.”
Instead, Nystrom said, the Legislature isn’t doing its job.

The association report shows both rural and urban areas have “dramatic needs.” It is those needs Nystrom said the report highlights so the “Legislature will open its eyes.”

Lance Malburg, the engineer for the Oceana County Road Commission, is well aware of the poor conditions and cited lack of funding along with higher prices for construction and maintenance.

“Yeah, we’re bad, but the short of it is we don’t have the dollars to fix it,” Malburg said.

Compounding the problem is the fact that roads are subjected to heavy traffic from agriculture and logging vehicles.

Malburg said he’s driven behind farm vehicles that buckle the roads as they drive over them.

Because Oceana is a lakeshore county, its roads are subject to a harsh freeze-thaw cycle, where water enters cracks in the pavement and enlarges them as it repeatedly freezes and expands.

The county has seasonal weight restrictions to prevent damage to vulnerable roads. Those load limits adversely affect businesses that ship large amounts of products and raw materials.

Schmieding says his business has learned to deal with the seasonal restrictions.

His sawmill doesn’t ship when seasonal load limits are in effect, which can start as early as February. Instead, he stocks up during the preceding months.

“We’re small enough that we can generally get enough logs in,” he said.

The sawmill also relies on timber from adjacent property during those months, which means trucks can move logs without using public roads.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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