The Michigan Department of Transportation gave Hillsdale County $2.6 million in funding for various road projects in 2020.
Funding from MDOT, which was announced last fall, will go toward several portions of M‑49 and M‑99. According to Kelby Wallace, manager at MDOT’s Jackson Transportation Service Center, his office has not set a construction schedule yet. Most road maintenance, he added, generally takes place between May 1 and the end of October.
“We have a list of projects where we have funding available every year. They’re scattered between Hillsdale, Jackson, and Lenawee counties,” Wallace said. “We try to spread it out as much as possible.”
Last fall, Wallace said, his office decided to select more projects in Hillsdale County in 2020 due to the need for roads to be repaired.
“We have three bigger projects in Hillsdale County, more than we’ve had the last couple of years,” he said.”
The first project is the M‑49 stretch inside Reading’s village limits. Because there are curbs and gutters in that area, Wallace said this will require milling, then resurfacing it with new asphalt through the entire village limits. This project will use about $610,000 of the funding, according to Wallace.
The second project will be asphalt resurfacing on M‑99 between the cities of Jonesville and Litchfield, which will require $1.4 million.
The third major project will take place on M‑49 in two stages: between Allen and Litchfield and from Litchfield to the Calhoun County line. Wallace said for these portions of road, teams will use a chip seal, a process where they spread tar and put down fine rocks and stone. This will cost about $587,000, according to Wallace.
Wallace said his staff goes out, completing field reviews to best determine what roads in the tri-county area need to be repaired.
“We have technical pavement data we get. We have a statewide contract that provides laser measurements on all of our roadways,” he said. “We can see how many cracks there are per mile.”
The construction teams use their field reviews and laser data to figure out what pavement is holding up and what the right treatment is to keep the roads functioning properly.
For instance, Wallace said if a road is in decent shape, the construction teams will use the chip seal treatment. Chip seal, he said, is made when the road is “in pretty good shape, but we want to restore the surface and give better friction.”
With the funding for the big projects, Wallace said the plan is to “adjust these roadways before they fall into very poor condition.”
It is more cost-effective, he said, to do preventative maintenance treatments rather than wait until a road is in bad condition, at which point teams would have to remove the pavement and perhaps even the gravel under the road.
“We try to proactively address these roadways with treatments that are less expensive and a little quicker,” Wallace said. “This helps with tourism, and it helps folks so they have less maintenance on their cars. It supports economic growth.”
While the schedules have not been developed yet, Wallace said his office will avoid completing all the projects at the same time. The Jackson Transportation Service Center will also communicate with the local cities and villages to work around things like festivals.
“Typically, we reach out to the local media and give press releases,” Wallace said.
John Sanders, manager at the Hillsdale County Road Commission, said that while the county road commission isn’t going to be working on the MDOT-funded projects, the commission has its own maintenance issues to cover.
For example, Sanders said they are currently planning joint repairs between the cities of Hillsdale and Jonesville. Sanders said that this spring the commission will also need to replace some culverts and do some gravel repairs.
The road commission is looking at doing maintenance on culverts north of Jonesville. Sanders said they are planning to handle these projects before Jackson TSC’s groups come in to do work on M‑99.
Sanders said these repairs are going to be good for residents and their vehicles.
“Any time you do road repairs, it’s less repairs on cars,” Sanders said. “We’re trying to improve the roads so there’s less wear and tear on vehicles.”
Jake Hammel, director of Public Services for the City of Hillsdale, echoed Sanders’ thoughts, adding that the driving experience will be improved for city and county residents.
For Hillsdale, it can be hard to get funding for two-lane highways, Sanders said, because there are so many of them in the state. But he said Hillsdale has been fortunate in working with the Jackson TSC because the county’s highways have been kept in good shape the last few years.
“That’s all due diligence in working with the TSC and Kelby,” Sanders said.
This is important not only for drivers, he said, but also for the roads themselves. The county road commission and Jackson TSC are trying to maintain a high quality for the road conditions so that reconstruction projects aren’t necessary. Sanders said it’s always better to do maintenance and repairs than let the roads deteriorate. Road construction is the most expensive project.
“I can crack and seal 10 miles of a road for what it costs to reconstruct a half mile,” Sanders said.