Local residents await Maple Road light decision

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published February 19, 2014

 The Road Commission for Oakland County is slated to start the Northwestern Connector project at 14 Mile and Orchard Lake roads in June or July.

The Road Commission for Oakland County is slated to start the Northwestern Connector project at 14 Mile and Orchard Lake roads in June or July.

Photo by Deb Jacques


WEST BLOOMFIELD — Sixty to 90 days is how long residents of Deerfield Village and surrounding subdivisions along Maple Road will have to wait for an answer regarding whether the Road Commission for Oakland County will construct a new traffic light at Heather Heath or restore the Ealy Elementary traffic light.

Residents and township Supervisor Michele Economou Ureste filled the RCOC boardroom for a public meeting Feb. 5 to request the light at Ealy Elementary be turned from flashing yellow to fully functioning for safety and traffic-flow purposes.

“I wanted to come and ask the question, at the end of the day, God forbid there was a tragic accident, can we look back and say to ourselves that we did everything we could to try and prevent that issue?” Jeremy Kaplan, a West Bloomfield resident who has friends in Deerfield Village, said at the board meeting.

A traffic study was conducted in October, distributed to the township Board of Trustees Jan. 8. The report recommends removing the Ealy Elementary light and installing another light in front of Heather Heath Lane on Maple Road, which is only about 200 yards away from Ealy Elementary, Economou Ureste said.

The Road Commission requested that the township split the $184,000 installation cost with the commission. Economou Ureste told the Road Commission board that a break in traffic flow is needed along Maple Road, but the township cannot absorb half the cost of the proposed $184,000 project.

“The township’s local government has never participated in the cost of traffic light,” Economou Ureste said. “We cannot absorb state unfunded mandates, county costs. Our budget cannot sustain or absorb such costs. We’re looking at a 10-year financial projection with our surplus running out in about five years. … We cannot absorb half the cost of a $184,000 new light.”

Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Road Commission, said after the meeting that $184,000 includes the cost of moving the electricity, creating a new pole and cement base for the light, and constructing Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant crosswalks.

“That’s standard cost for that kind of signal,” Bryson said.

The township has included in its 10-year financial projection the cost of reconstructing Orchard Lake Road into a four-lane boulevard between 14 Mile and Maple roads, which is anticipated to begin, following the Northwestern Connector Project, in either 2015 or 2016.

The central part of the Northwestern Connector project is placing a roundabout at Orchard Lake and 14 Mile roads and Northwestern Highway, but the 14 Mile Road and Northwestern Highway intersection will also be reconfigured, Bryson said after the meeting.

Residents at the meeting expressed that with the new construction, traffic will only increase on Maple Road.

“Fourteen Mile Road will — rather than coming straight across to the intersection of Orchard Lake as it does now — it will dip down and connect Northwestern Highway a couple hundred feet south, where it currently connects with Northwestern Highway,” Bryson said.

The Road Commission anticipates that the Northwestern Connector project will begin in June or July and last through the construction season — November into December. Depending on when construction starts, Bryson said it could spill into 2015, as well.

The detour route has not been finalized for the project, but through the four stages of construction, different roads will be closed during each phase.

“I’m sure both 13 Mile and Maple will see increased traffic during the construction,” Bryson added.

“With the Northwestern connection that’s going to go in, all that traffic is going to be diverged to 13 Mile and 15 (Mile), because we all know 15 Mile Road travels much faster than the other mile roads,” said Jeffrey Regan, board president for Deerfield Village. “I just want everyone to understand there’s a light existing there. Let’s look at this from a logical perspective: we don’t need a new light right now — we just need the light turned on.”

The constant traffic flow poses a safety issue for not only the residents living along Maple Road between Orchard Lake and Middlebelt roads, but also Fire Station 5, Economou Ureste said.

“You’re the experts, and it’s up to you to determine whether or not you want us to save $184,000 and make the Ealy light functioning,” Economou Ureste said.

“We’re taking a look at all that,” said Commissioner Gregory Jamian, chairman of the board. “We are not always experts here, but we have brought independent advisors in on this … so we’re looking at it, and we thank everybody for coming in today and making their case. All your points will be taken into consideration.”

The light near Ealy Elementary dates back to the early 1980s, when the West Bloomfield School District canceled busing for residents living outside a 1 1/2-mile radius of Orchard Lake Middle School, said John Crimmings, resident of West Bloomfield and former Deerfield Village president. At that time, residents petitioned for a solution, and a light was installed at Tamerlane Drive. Busing was eventually restored, but the light stayed, Crimmings added.

“The reason the light stayed was because everybody recognized that the traffic was incredibly hard to get out and make a left-hand turn out of our subdivision and the neighboring subdivisions,” Crimmings said.

Deerfield Village resident Marily Fealk, who, like Crimmings, has lived in Deerfield Village since the 1970s, confirmed Crimming’s history of the light, emphasizing that the light was originally placed at Tamerlane Drive for kids to walk through the subdivisions to get to Orchard Lake Middle School.

“It is a process,” Jamian said. “Something like this is not just a snap of the fingers. We have to consider … as you indicated, safety, the flow of traffic, as well as the break. … So there is a lot of things we have to consider and research.”

Jamian said the Road Commission will “probably” have a remedy in 60-90 days.

“We need that light desperately, and we need it now,” said Patricia Cooney, West Bloomfield resident. “Not next year or two years from now. We need it now, before there’s a fatality there.”