A portion of M‑99 that runs through downtown Hillsdale. Julia Mullins | Col­legian

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.