WEST BLOOMFIELD — The West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees raised a stop sign on its path to picking a road construction option that could drastically change the Orchard Lake corridor.
The board voted unanimously June 21 to delay a decision on the Northwestern Connector Project, for which the Road Commission for Oakland County is seeking to add a new roundabout on Orchard Lake Road. The board hopes to revisit the issue June 27.
Despite the Road Commission’s request for a prompt decision, township officials wanted more time to think about the action. Township Attorney Gary Dovre said he will use the delay to contact the Road Commission, and make preliminary steps to check and amend the legal framework on the matter.
“I’d like to think that that’s not going to break any camel’s back,” Dovre said about the delay.
According to officials, the Road Commission signaled its intent in May to end discussions between itself and a township-created Ad Hoc Roads Committee comprising officials and residents.
The township Board of Trustees formed the roads committee in 2008 after the Road Commission reportedly dropped plans to build a boulevard on Orchard Lake Road between 14 Mile and Maple while it considered a new roundabout at the Orchard Lake-Maple crossing.
Since then, the two sides have been engaged in discussions for around 2 1/2 years. But at the June 21 meeting, roads committee members, including Richard Barr, complained that the Road Commission has not been forthcoming with data on project costs, design aspects, roundabout pedestrian safety and more.
“I believe … there is not yet enough information on the table for a $25 (million) or $30 million decision to be made,” Barr said.
According to Barr, the township has a few options:
• It could agree to the Road Commission’s plan to install an Orchard Lake-Maple roundabout while putting a four-lane boulevard on Orchard Lake Road between Maple and 14 Mile.
• It could let the Road Commission build a roundabout at 14 Mile and Orchard Lake roads while building a boulevard of a yet-to-be-determined length north of that roundabout.
• It could try to finalize an engineering study of the Maple-Orchard Lake intersection, even though the two sides reportedly disagree on the scope of what that study would entail.
Barr also suggested that the township could suggest talks between itself, Farmington Hills, the Road Commission and other stakeholders.
Norah O’Brian of the roads committee said the Road Commission is prepared to move forward with the 14 Mile roundabout plan if West Bloomfield hesitates for too long. She said the Maple roundabout and boulevard option would cost the township $3.9 million, but she added that it also comes with roughly $26 million in federal, state and county aid.
“We all know road improvement dollars are scarce,” she said. “To reap that road dollar bonanza, this board will have to compromise.”
Township Clerk Cathy Shaughnessy and Trustee Howard Rosenberg voiced unhappiness over being pressured to choose among the available options.
“I am distressed that we are being backed into this corner,” she said. “There is only one pot of money left. No more is coming.”
Meanwhile, board members including Trustee Steven Kaplan, Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste and Treasurer Teri Weingarden said they disfavor a roundabout at Maple and Orchard Lake.
“I think it’s really just playing right into what the Road Commission wants,” Ureste said. “I don’t see that the roundabout is what the public wants in our downtown area.”
Road Commission spokesman Craig Bryson said after the meeting that his group has tried to work with the township’s committee and has provided it with “a ton of information.” He said the Road Commission wants to move quickly on the matter because some of the funding it has received has come from congressional earmarks.
“Those earmarks don’t last forever,” he said. “If we don’t use it fairly soon, the feds could take it back, and we don’t want to lose that money. That makes up several million dollars.”