This summer Stacy Kelley has been engaged in a campaign to improve road conditions in the Walkerville area, where she has lived her whole life. She currently lives on 166th just off Harrison Road, and is dismayed, to say the least, with roads not being improved and large holes damaging vehicles, unreasonable dust being kicked up, lack of brining and road closures due to flooding.
“I’ve had damage to my vehicle on Tyler Road towards Deer Road,” she says. “It was frozen over and the whole road was washed out. It took off my bumper and light, and we’re always having to replace the suspension on our vehicles. We had to replace the transmission because a spring flew out after hitting a bump in the road. Last year I spent $3,000 on fixing my car, and this year I spent $2,000 – and these are new Subarus.”
In addition, Kelley points out that 168th has been closed for significant periods of time due to flooding. She is also unable to hang clothes on the line or open windows or play outside with her child due to the thick dust when vehicles go by.
“When I complain, something gets done,” she continues, “but these things should be done on a regular schedule. We should not have to ask. We may be in the country, but we’re important too.”
Kelley reports that, while she has contacted both the Oceana County Road Commission and Leavitt Township, the issue seems to be lack of funding and a lot of finger-pointing back and forth leaving her unclear as to who is responsible to address her concerns.
According to Mark Timmer, managing director for the Oceana County Road Commission, the county commission and the townships actually partner on some improvements such as brining. But, in general, he says the road commission prioritizes road work based on traffic counts, available funding and specific township participation, as well as the condition of the road surface. “Paved primary roads and paved local roads, and then gravel roads are the order of priority,” Timmer explains. “We also make preservation a priority; in other words, we will chip seal and preserve roads that are in good condition to keep them that way.”
In this regard, Timmer hopes that the public recognizes what the road commission has actually accomplished in Leavitt Township with the funds available and allocated to the Township this year. The commission chip sealed eight miles of paved roads in Leavitt Township, including 192nd from Scout to Filmore and Filmore to Newaygo County, 198th north of Filmore to Fox/Polk/184th/Deer, and 176th north to Walkerville, at a cost of $256,000.
In response to Kelley’s specific complaints regarding the condition of Harrison Road, 166th, 168th and Turner Road, Timmer indicates that the issue is both funding and the necessary prioritizing of roads with greater traffic levels. “Harrison Road east of Walkerville needs to be repaved,” he responds, “but there is currently not enough funding to pay for this. It has 1/3 the traffic that 176th north of Walkerville has.” As a result, Harrison Road has been patched with hot mix or cold patches.
168th Avenue is beyond the control of the Road Commission and is a low volume gravel road. The other roads cited are also gravel, and while they have been graded by the road commission, Leavitt Township elected not to do a second brining. As it is the township board that votes on contracts for brining, citizens need to contact the township in that regard.
In addition, Timmer outlines why the Oceana County Road Commission has less funding for roads that other Counties do. “Much of a road commission’s income is based on population,” he states, “and is derived from gasoline tax and registrations. Oceana County is so rural, we don’t receive as much income as some of the neighboring counties.” Specifically, he reports that the Oceana County Road Commission receives $5.7 million in Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funding, which must cover improvements in all townships in Oceana County, while Newaygo County receives $8 million and Muskegon receives $15.8 million. Oceana County maintains approximately 1090 miles of county roads and 265 lane miles of State MDOT roads with 20 truck drivers, road workers or heavy equipment operators, while Muskegon and Oceana Counties have similar total miles of county roads. Similarly, he says, “The difference in Oceana’s income and Newaygo’s income could pave another 13.5 miles of roads per year.” While the Road Commission also receives limited Federal and State aid to pave roads, the amount only covers the paving of a couple of miles of Oceana County roads in any given year.
According to Leavitt Township Supervisor Emma Kirwin, the townships get no funding at all for roads, but about 75 percent of townships set aside some funds for road work. “Leavitt has been using ‘match funds’ for road work the last three or four years,” she says, “and local farmers often supplement funding for roads they travel. But, again, townships do not receive funding for road work and have not for decades. The responsibility for maintaining safe roads falls on road commissions.” Timmer concurs with this information, but adds that the townships in Oceana County that do the most road projects all have road millages. The tax dollars generated are spent entirely in the township that establishes the millage, with such township deciding the scope of roadway projects with planning help from the Road Commission.
When asked about whether Leavitt Township has considered a millage for road improvements, Kirwin responds, “We have talked about millage, but residents haven’t informed the board they would like to see a tax increase to address road problems.” She indicates that the Township Board has had some discussion about letting the people decide by putting a millage on the ballot, but this action has not, so far, been taken.
Despite the obvious funding concerns, Kelley says, “Everything starts with the roads.” In addition to her personal issues, she believes that tourism is affected by the road conditions and that visitors to the Ruby Creek area and other areas where people vacation and patronize restaurants are unlikely to come and spend money in the Walkerville area when the roads are so bad. Perhaps half serious, she adds, “My next step may be to apply for a position within Leavitt Township. Someone that actually cares needs to be representing our tiny town.”