In Williamston, it’s no secret that the roads could be in much better shape.
“The roads are terrible,” Williamston resident John Endahl said. “We’ve lived on [Middle] street for 30 years, and it is basically paved potholes. It’s been that way for about five years.”
As a bike rider, the potholes on Middle street have caused Endahl to drop his phone on the pavement multiple times.
The dire shape of some of Williamston’s roads has no quick fix, according to City Manager Alan Dolley.
To renovate Williamston’s road system entirely, a figure of $500,000 would need to be granted every year for at least 20 years, Dolley said.
“We know that there are some issues with our streets, but that’s been known for quite some time,” Dolley said.
“Funding for the roads from the state and federal government are very limited,” Dolley explained. “The amount that the state is giving us is not increasing but in the past 22 years the cost [of maintenance] has gone up significantly.”
At the moment, Williamston is working on a grant for a much smaller sum of $375,000, a a grant it is only eligible for once every three years.
The cost of repairs is so high because it is not just the roads that need renovating, but what lies underneath them, according to Dolley.
This aging infrastructure, namely water and sewer lines, can only be reached by first tearing up the road that lies above it.
A new road paved above an old sewer line would need to be destroyed in the process of fixing the subterranean infrastructure, Dolley said. Given the already limited funds, this makes repairs to much of Williamston’s road network fiscally impossible.
“To put brand new asphalt covering on the road doesn’t make a lot of sense if you know the infrastructure beneath the road is in bad shape,” the City Manager said.
A statewide problem
Over one third of Michigan’s roads are considered to be in poor condition.
Poor road quality is not a problem contained solely to Williamston. With only 16.3% of Michigan’s roads considered to be in “good” condition according to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council, crumbling roads are a common site across the Great Lakes State.
Williamston and the state of Michigan have the same thing in common, they both lack the funds to properly maintain their infrastructure. With the cost of repairing a single mile of urban road at $1,899,886, drumming up the needed cash is no mean feat.
The main method of acquiring funds to maintain roads comes from the taxation of gasoline and vehicle registration fees, according to the County Road association of Michigan.
In September 2016, Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill that would increase both the gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees, with the end product of generating an additional $804.4 million for Michigan counties, according to the Detroit Free press.
As costs of repairs and maintenance continue to rise, the future of the Michigan’s roads continues to look grim.
Living with inadequate roads
Williamston residents have come up with their own ways of avoiding damaging their vehicles when traversing poor roads.
“When I hit one of these spots that are bad.. I don’t want to shake my car all up so I kind of go slow over them,” Williamston resident Steve Harkness said.
Resident Rich Perkins said that his hefty pickup truck keeps him from experiencing too many issues while driving on Williamston’s poorer roads.
John Endahl said that after 30 years of living on Middle street, he has memorized the locations of all the potholes and is able to weave around them.
“And next spring there will be a whole bunch of new ones,” Endahl added with myrth.
A city trying its best
Williamston’s residents are not without sympathy for their city’s budgetary constraints.
“The roads could be better but I understand that there’s budgetary constraints and that they are trying to keep up as best as they can,” Steve Harkness said. “The city does everything that it can do with its dollars.”
“There are some areas around here that could use some improvement, but the roads are better than they were a couple years ago,” resident Rich Perkins said. “I don’t expect them to all be perfect.”
Other residents see Williamston’s roads in a more positive light.
“I think (the roads) are decent. As far as driving from Williamston over the area, they’re good,” said Mike Freeman, a Leroy Township resident who often commutes through Williamston.
Williamston resident Patty Mathiews said that the roads she uses in town, Williamston and Grand River, are perfectly fine.
Yet for residents such as John Endahl who live farther away from the well maintained main roads, the wait for a replacement has yet to come to an end.
“We’ve been told we’re slated to have it replaced next year which will be a nice thing, but it’s certainly… the condition’s terrible,” Endahl said. “I think the replacement cycle’s been way too long.”