Meridian Township is trying to fix failing infrastructure with limited resources

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By Kelly Sheridan
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

In 2016, Meridian Township has several infrastructure projects planned, including road construction, sanitary sewer projects and drain maintenance. Working in tandem with the Ingham County Road Department, and the Ingham County Drain Commissioner, the Public Works Department is trying to improve failing infrastructure with the limited resources it has.

Construction on the Marsh Road Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Construction on the Marsh Road Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Since Meridian Township is a township, it is not responsible for the operations and maintenance of their road and drain system. The government works with the Ingham County Road Department and the Ingham County Drain Commissioner when projects become too big for the township to handle. However, the township is often the first place residents call to get their issues fixed, Chief Engineer Younes Ishraidi said.

“Typically, we are the first contact and we decide from there if it is a township code issue or if it is a major infrastructure issue,” Ishraidi said.

Usually, the most noticeable projects have to do with transportation and roads, which is also where the biggest lack of funds is.

Michigan’s roads are funded through the Act 51 formula, which means there is a fuel tax that goes to the state of Michigan, and is then distributed to different road agencies. However, since Meridian Township isn’t one of those agencies they don’t get those dollars directly. There is a small portion that goes to the township, but it is not enough to fund the roads completely, Assistant Township Manager/Director of Public Works & Engineering, Derek Perry said.

“The local roads get a very small portion of [the dollars]–it’s about $115,000, which does not go very far in any road system,” Perry said.”We also have a road millage, which is about a quarter million, and we tax our folks through the property tax. That helps a little.”

Each year, the Ingham County Road Department will rate the roads through the PASAR system.

“Each road gets driven and is rated with a number,” Perry said. “Unfortunately about 41 percent of our roads are about 1-3, which means poor or fatal. So, we have a lot of candidates for road work in the township.”

A picture of Meridian Township according to the PASAR ratings. The red indicates roads at 1-3 which means they are failing. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

A picture of Meridian Township according to the PASAR ratings. The red indicates roads at 1-3 which means they are failing. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

According to Perry, the Meridian Township Government will sit down with the Ingham County Road Department and will give them their list of candidates, and the amount of money they have from their general fund as well. They will then decide which is the most beneficial reconstruction plan for the largest number of people.

“We’re trying to be equitable to everyone in the township,” Perry said. “We’re trying to spread this small little pot of money the best we can and we look at how we can impact the largest number of people with the dollars available.”

Janie Calpin, a former resident of the area and Meridian Mall visitor, believes the best thing to do would be to invest in new technologies to prevent these issues from happening so often.

“Winter really tears [the roads] apart and I don’t know if there’s enough funding to fix them in the spring and summer,” Calpin said. “They should be using different material so you don’t have to keep repairing it every time.”

Perry believes the new technology is the best solution for the roads. However, it is hard to implement these plans when they are still in the process of trying to fix so many roads.

“Ideally what you want to do is more of the preservation type work, and that’s what we’re moving towards. The problem is when your road system is 40 percent failed, there is a lot of pressure with people saying ‘you need to renovate this road because it is literally falling apart.’ It’s a difficult balancing act,” Perry said. “The only way you can really do that is to try and get some more resources to be able to split that pot and spend the money on both the preservation type treatments and also trying to rejuvenate those roads.”

Lack of funds is not the only problem infrastructure projects face. Often times, there is the issue of traffic and time. One of the projects chosen for 2016 is the reconstruction of the Marsh Road Bridge. This has not only caused a problem for drivers, but for the workers as well, project superintendent Shawn Polacek said.

“It’s a little hard because it’s such a highly populated area. With the school and the mall right there, they wouldn’t let us shut down both sides of the road,” Polacek said. “We have to do it in two phases for both sides of the road.”

The Marsh Road Bridge project is expected to be completed by Labor Day, the Ingham County Road Department said. Other road projects planned for 2016 include reconstruction on Tihart Road, repairs to the Southbound Okemos Bridge Outer Lane, resurfacing of Park Lake Road and the improvement of the intersection at Jolly Road and Okemos Road.

Construction on the Okemos Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Construction on the Okemos Bridge. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

While road reconstruction is most often the most notable, there are many other aspects and projects that are included with a city or township’s infrastructure.

“[Road reconstruction] is the infrastructure people notice, but the reality is we have miles of sanitary sewers that we’re responsible for,” Perry said. “There are also storm sewers that the Ingham County Drain Commissioner is responsible for.”

Meridian Township works with the Ingham County Drain Commissioner for their drain and storm water issues. Ishraidi said there are some issues they deal with, but most go to the drain office.

“In Meridian Township we don’t have jurisdictions over the public drain systems, however, we do are involved with folks dumping storm water or sump pumps on their neighbors,” Ishraidi said. “We work in constant with the drain office to decide whether this is a code issue or a drain issue, so yes we do get involved in those but a lot of the issues go back to the drain office.”

The Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann says they go out and inspect their drains every three years.

“Sometimes we find things that are a little wrong with it, sometimes there are big issues so we try to put touches on it to know where we are with the drains,” Lindemann said.

While the minor issues are often fixed at Lindemann’s discretion, the major fixes are brought forth through a petition process. The government entity, in this case Meridian Township’s local government, can petition the Drain Commissioner to fix the drains, some of which cost a lot more money. The processes are different, and depending on the situation, sometimes they will decide to not go the petition rate and simply slowly improve the drain each year, Lindemann says.

“Our main fixes are usually storm water, even though we do get into other areas as well.” Lindemann says. “This time of the year we’re paying attention to most of the ditches. We have to keep them clean and maintained after the winter.”

With Meridian Township, there are several projects in motion, Lindemann says. One of the projects is Daniel’s Drain which has been a major topic of discussion with the Township Board and steps to move forward with this project will be decided at a future Township Board Meeting. Another project is Smith Drain at Jolly Road. Lindemann says they receive the petition last fall and will be in construction in August.

“If you think of it like a car—when you don’t change the oil, your engine is going to burn out—drains are no different,” Lindemann said. “If you don’t care for them, in the end you’re going to have huge costs because the problems compound.”

According to Lindemann, you can’t have a place where a lot of people live without four types of infrastructure: toilet water, drinking water, storm water, and transportation.  One of the major Meridian Township Infrastructure projects for 2016 is the implementation of township sewer to Kansas Road in Okemos. This project was initiated through a petition process.

“The way this project specifically was initiated was there were residents out on Kansas Road who said ‘we want to have township sewer,’” Project Engineer Nyal Nunn said. “The process for them was to collect signatures from other property owners along Kansas for what would be defined as the project limits. Once they have enough signatures, they can submit that to the Township Board, and assuming everything is in order, which it was, the board orders the Special Assessment District to get set up and move through the whole process to lead us to get pipe in the ground.”

Road construction from the sewer replacement on Kansas Road. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Road construction from the sewer replacement on Kansas Road. Photo by Kelly Sheridan

Nunn says the cost of the project will then be assessed back to the property owners. Once the construction is complete, and the full cost is known, there will be a series of hearings where people are  allowed to voice any objections. Once the hearings are complete, the cost will added to the tax roll as a ‘special assessment’. According to Nunn, the process usually takes nine to twelve months.

The township follows Act 188 with their petition process. In the case of the sanitary sewer, 50 percent of land owners have to agree with the project. However, on Kansas Road 13 families said no to the new sewer system.

“The way state law is written, if the majority of the homeowners protest it the project doesn’t move forward,” Nunn said. “If it doesn’t go through, it’s on the homeowner to fix it.”

There was a counter-petition put forth for Kansas Road, however, those in favor of the project won because they owned a quarter of an acre more than those who were against it.The sewer main has already been installed on Kansas Road, and they are currently working on road construction. Nunn says the price for this project is estimated around $150,000.

Nunn says these sanitary sewer projects don’t happen as often as road construction, because most of it is done by the residents. The last project was done in 2010.

While most people are annoyed with infrastructure and the burdens it may cause, Perry hopes people will understand the government is doing the best they can with the resources they have.

“People really only think about infrastructure, whether the roads or the water systems, when it doesn’t work or its failing,” Perry said. “We need to do a better job of educating the residents and saying ‘here’s what your paying in roads, heres what it is really able to do.’”

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