A sign posted along Schoenherr Road in Sterling Heights tells drivers that there will be repaving efforts in the spring and summer.

A sign posted along Schoenherr Road in Sterling Heights tells drivers that there will be repaving efforts in the spring and summer.

Photo by Joshua Gordon

County commissioners urge more focus on roads over regional transit

By: Joshua Gordon | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published February 20, 2018

MOUNT CLEMENS — At about 1:30 p.m. Feb. 13, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel sat on a county road in traffic. Road crews were working on patching the road.

It is a common sight for many people who have traveled through Macomb County this winter, as potholes have been prevalent on often-traveled roads, such as Mound and Schoenherr roads.

Sitting in his car, Hackel said, the crews work on the county’s poor roads to make them traversable, but by the time the poor roads have been improved, the fair roads have been downgraded to poor. A lack of funding has made it hard for the county to answer all the complaints.

“This can’t be the way forward,” Hackel said. “What the state is providing is woefully inadequate. We have over 600 miles of poor-rated roads, and we are not catching up.”

On Feb. 15, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution that asks Hackel, the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder to focus on repairing and upgrading the condition of roads in Macomb County, rather than focusing on improving regional mass transit.

The resolution was brought forth by Commissioner Leon Drolet, R-Macomb Township, and passed with a 9-3 vote. Commissioners Andrey Duzyj, D-Warren; Veronica Klinefelt, D-Eastpointe; and Kathy Tocco, D-Fraser, were the no votes.

In the resolution, Drolet references Macomb County residents voting down a millage proposal by the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan in November 2016. The 1.2-mill property tax assessment was voted against by 60 percent of the Macomb County voters.

“Every time there is a meeting of the regional leaders, a lot of energy and time is spent on expanding mass transit, and it was clear to me that that issue is a lower tier issue to residents of Macomb County than the condition of the roads,” Drolet said. “(That) a lot of time and focus and money are going towards mass transit while the roads are crumbling is irrational.”

Poor road conditions aren’t just a problem on county streets, as the Michigan Department of Transportation is in the process of repairing sections of Interstate 696 in Oakland and Macomb counties. A number of vehicles have had pieces of concrete fly up and hit their cars on the freeway.

Hackel said Snyder’s $1.2 billion roads bill that was signed in 2015 sounds great, but it would take more than that just for Macomb County roads to be brought up to the proper condition. There will still be discussions on regional transit, but Hackel said roads will be his major focus, and they have been for some time.

“We are getting back to the fundamentals of fixing the roads first,” Hackel said. “This is something I have been championing for quite some time, because that is what people are most concerned about.”

Drolet said the No. 1 complaint many of the commissioners receive are about the roads. With the rise of ride sharing apps and lower gas prices, Drolet said he believes more people are choosing riding in a car over mass transit in Macomb County.

Drolet served as the chair of the campaign against the regional transit millage in 2016, and with several Macomb County communities being made up of subdivisions and long walks to bus stops, he still believes the roads should be the first priority.

“It is difficult for seniors to walk to the bus stop because they are spread out, and even people’s destinations, like a doctor’s office or work, they are rarely right at a bus stop,” Drolet said. “What we can do is make it easier for people to get around by fixing the roads.”

Tocco said part of the reason she voted against the resolution was because it states that the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, the regional bus organization, can enact additional reforms without raising taxes, which Tocco said she didn’t agree with.

And while she is for finding a solution for the roads, Tocco said that doesn’t mean they should give up on mass transit.

“I think both transit and roads, we need to have discussions on both issues,” she said. “We can’t just scrap transit.”