FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions
Here you will find some of the questions we are frequently asked by the public.
Hard Surface Roads
Why do you spread all that tar and gravel on the paved roads?
The process you are referring to is sealcoating. It is a relatively low cost method of preserving existing low-volume pavements. This “seal” prevents water from freezing in the cracks and breaking up the pavement. A sealcoat offers the best protection for the least amount of money, and makes a road last longer. The tar is actually an emulsion of water and liquid asphalt which penetrates and seals small cracks in the existing pavement. Sealing these cracks on a regular basis prevents water from seeping into and softening the base of the road and over time causing potholes to form. The pea stone that we use for cover material sticks to the emulsion and, after rolling and sweeping, provides a slightly roughened skid resistant surface to improve safety. Although sealcoating can preserve and extend the life of the pavement, it is only a surface treatment and does not fill any existing bumps, holes, or irregularities and thus does not improve the ride quality. For this reason it is important to apply sealcoat to a road BEFORE this deterioration occurs, which leads us to sealcoat roads that are in generally good condition rather than waiting for them to deteriorate to the point that extensive patching is necessary.
There is a downside, however, as vehicles travel over the new surface small rocks may come loose under the tires. When a motorist encounters a newly chip sealed road, which will be marked with “Loose Gravel” signs, the best preventative is to reduce the vehicle speed and keep plenty of distance from any vehicle in front of them.
What are “All Season” roads?
So called “All Season” roads are those that have been designed and built with additional strength and durability to withstand truck traffic loads all year long, and thus they are not subject to the reduced loading restrictions that are placed on most roads during the early spring in Michigan. Roads not constructed to “All Season” standards are subject to a reduction in allowable loading and speeds during the period each spring when thawing of the ground below the roadbed softens the roadbed and makes the surface susceptible to damage from heavy loads.
What are seasonal weight restrictions?
Seasonal weight restrictions are legal limits placed on the loads trucks may carry. During late winter and early spring, when seasonal thawing occurs, the maximum allowable axle load and speed is reduced to prevent weather-related breakup of roads.
Gravel, Dirt and Unimproved Roads
We live on a gravel road and would like to have it paved…
Primary Roads are selected for paving based on a pavement inventory rating system which takes into consideration the physical condition of the road, the average daily traffic, and the physical ride quality of the pavement.
Local Roads are typically selected by the townships based on the concerns of the public and the amount of money that they have available to cost share with the Road Commission. Many local roads were improved using private development funds, contributions from Township government, or by special assessment charges on the properties that access a particular road. The level of funding provided to the Road Commission, by law, is not sufficient to pay for the initial paving of a road. Although Township government has no responsibility for road maintenance or improvement, and does not receive any road tax money, they have been very supportive of county roads over the years, and you may wish to contact them to see if they have any plans to improve your road in the future.
You can also obtain a Petition to set up a special assessment district to improve your road from the Road Commission. When signed by the owners of 51 percent or more of the frontage on a road such a petition authorizes the Road Commission to set up a special assessment district, prepare plans and estimates of the work needed to pave the road, and hold public hearings regarding the proposed project. All properties accessing the road would share in the expense of the project, which could be spread over a period of up to ten years.
I can not leave my windows open because of the dust…
The number and type of application are jointly decided by the road commission and townships. Typically townships share the costs of dust control with the road commission. Please contact your township for dust control applications.
Our gravel road is a muddy mess! Can you do something to stop this springtime situation?
We can try, and we do try, but, in the spring when the frost comes out of the roadbed, what was once frozen and solid turns soft and unstable. It will remain this way until the moisture comes out of the roadbed. The best cure for this is warm, dry temperatures and a good wind. If we attempt to haul gravel on top of this condition, it could turn it into a bigger mess. There is a saying in the trade that “adding a bucket of gravel to a bucket of mud just gets you a bigger bucket of mud.” There is much truth to this, as adding sand or gravel to fill a mud hole usually has little or no effect because the gravel ends up mixing with the mud, just making more mud and sometimes aggravating the problem as equipment stirs things up.
Now that the frost is out, why are you pulling in the sod and making a huge mess on the gravel roads?
Road commission crews pull shoulders on gravel roads in the county every spring before the grass begins to grow on the side of the road. This maintenance is done to reclaim gravel that has been pushed into the shoulder as well as to remove the berm on the roadside which keeps the water from flowing off the road.
We lose a lot of gravel either from rain washing it off the road or from vehicles kicking it up from normal driving. By doing this the road commission can save thousands of tons of gravel. The process of pulling shoulders involves a couple of steps. A motor grader goes through and pulls the berm into the center of the road. Next a truck grader “beats” the gravel out of the sod and mixes it with existing gravel. This isn’t a thing that’s done in one day. It can be a two-week process. The graders do come back on a regular basis to check on it and regrade as necessary.
The gravel road I live on is full of holes – when are you going to grade it?
In the summer, roads are always graded prior to having chloride applied. In addition, we try to blade gravel roads after it rains and the road has softened up. In the winter, there is not much we can do until the frost is out of the roads.
Signs & Traffic Control
Who decides where traffic control devices are placed?
Traffic signs, pavement markings and traffic signals are the result of an engineering study conducted by the Road Commission. The Road Commission has the responsibility to place traffic signs and traffic signals at locations that have met a specific list of warrants or guidelines that are found in the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. To be effective, traffic controls should meet five basic requirements:
Fulfill a need,
Convey a clear, simple meaning,
Command the respect of road users, and
Give adequate time for proper response.
Specific warning signs for schools, playgrounds, parks and other recreational facilities where persons are gathered and may be vulnerable are listed in the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and available for use where clearly justified. The Michigan Manual has lists of traffic signs that can be used and also their proper size and installation. The Manual also describes pavement markings and their specific uses.
Can you install a “Children at play” sign on my street?
At first consideration, it might seem that this sign would provide protection for youngsters playing in a neighborhood. It doesn’t. Studies conducted in cities where such signs were widely posted in residential areas show no evidence of having reduced pedestrian crashes, vehicles speeds or legal liability. In fact, many types of signs which were installed to warn of normal conditions in residential areas failed to achieve the desired safety benefits. Further, if signs encourage parents to believe that children have an added degree of protection – which the signs do not and cannot provide – a great disservice results. Obviously, children shouldn’t be encouraged to play in the roadway. The “children at play” sign is a direct and open suggestion that it is acceptable to do so. Technically, it is illegal for children to play in the street. “Children at play” signs do not fulfill a need because children should not be playing in the street, and do not convey a clear, simple message, other than implying to the children that it is acceptable to play in the street. Federal standards discourage the use of “children at play” signs. The Michigan Vehicle Code prohibits the installation of any sign that is not specified in the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the “children at play” sign is not included in the Manual.
How are speed limits established?
Please view the Establishing Realistic Speed Limits brochure from the Michigan State Police Office. You can also learn more about speed limits by reading Section 257.627 of the Michigan Vehicle Code. Complaints regarding the speed of traffic and even petitions for lower speeds are very common. The Michigan Vehicle Code requires that drivers should, at all times, drive at “reasonable and proper” speeds, given the conditions. The law states: “Any person driving a vehicle on a highway shall drive at a careful and prudent speed not greater than nor less than what is reasonable and proper, having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the highway and of any other conditions; and no person shall drive any vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than will permit him to bring it to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.” Prima facie speed limits The Michigan Vehicle Code sets speed limits for roads even where no speed limit is posted. These unposted speed limits are known as “prima facie” speed limits. The prima facie speed limits identified in the law are:
Residential and business streets: Where no speed limit is posted, the prima facia speed limit on paved or gravel residential streets and streets in business districts is 25 mph.
Parks: Unless a different speed is posted, the prima facie speed limit in parks is also 25 mph.
Highways: On highways outside of residential or business districts, if no speed limit is posted, the prima facie speed limit is 55 mph.
When the prima facie limit is considered too high on a county road, the State Police, in conjunction with the road commission, conduct a speed study to determine the “reasonable and proper” speed for the road. Road agencies around the country have established standardized methods for conducting speed studies. These methods include engineering and traffic studies that examine such things as current traffic speed, traffic volume, accident rates, the character of the street (whether there are sidewalks, the number of driveways, sight obstructions, etc.), pedestrian activities and potential hazards that might not easily be detected by drivers. To get an enforceable speed limit set or changed on a county road, it is necessary that the state police conduct a speed study and that the state police and the Road Commission concur on the speed limit. Unless the state police concur with the proposed speed limit, it is not legally enforceable.
There have been a lot of accidents at a corner in our neighborhood. I think we should have a traffic signal there. If I get enough signatures, can we have one?
Petitions are not a basis for the installation of a new traffic signal. Michigan has developed a set of 11 guidelines, called warrants, to determine whether a traffic signal is needed. Information such as:
Is the main road’s traffic flow so constant that side-road traffic cannot enter or cross the main road?
Have a significant number of accidents occurred at this intersection?
Request for traffic signals are reviewed, with the decision based on the 11 warrants.
Right-of-Way, Trees and Roadside Structures
What is the Road Commission right of way?
The width of the road right of way can vary a great deal. In general, the Road Commission right of way is typically 66 feet wide, approximately 33 feet on both sides of the section/survey line (which typically corresponds to the roadway centerline). There are instances where the roadway centerline does not match the section/survey line, and in these cases, the limits of the right of way are not quite as straightforward. If a property owner needs to identify where the limits of the road right of way are or need true locations of their property lines, a professional surveying/engineering company should be hired.
When do I need to get a permit from the Road Commission?
Anytime a person or business does any construction work in the road right-of-way (normally 66 feet wide – 33 feet each direction from the center of the road) they need to obtain a permit. This applies to driveway installation or any other construction type activity.
Do I need a permit for a new driveway even if I do the work myself?
Yes, a permit from the Road Commission is required anytime work is performed in County road right of way. When you apply for a permit you are helping the Road Commission maintain safety for both yourself and the traveling public. Most traffic accidents occur at intersections or where vehicles are entering or leaving the roadway. The Road Commission inspects each proposed drive location to assure that adequate sight distance is available, to determine what drainage improvements might be necessary, and to review the site for other potential safety problems before a permit is issued. Although there is a charge for a residential driveway permit, there is no permit fee for most other minor work in road right of way, although we require that all contractors follow accepted traffic safety procedures and furnish adequate insurance coverage to protect both the homeowner and the public.
There is a dead deer on the side of the road…
The road commission will only remove animal carcasses in the traveling portion of the county right-of-way that create a safety hazard to the traveling public.
Where can I install my mailbox?
Mailboxes shall be located on the right-hand side of the roadway in the direction of the delivery route. The bottom of the box shall be set at an elevation, established by the U.S. Postal Service, usually between 36 inches and 45 inches above the roadway surface. Typically, the roadside face of the mailbox is offset 8 inches to 12 inches from the outside edge of the road shoulder. Exceptions to the lateral placement criteria may occur on residential streets and certain designated rural roads where it is in the public interest to alter the location. On curbed streets, the roadside face of the mailbox shall be set back from the face of the curb a distance between 6 inches and 12 inches. On residential streets without curbs, or on all-weather shoulders which carry low-traffic volumes and which operate at low speeds, the roadside face of a mailbox shall be offset between 8 inches and 12 inches behind the edge of the pavement. Where a mailbox is located at an intersecting road, it shall be located no closer than a minimum of 100 feet from the intersection. The distance may need to be increased if safety needs so require. Mailboxes and newspaper delivery boxes located in the right-of-way should be constructed in a manner which does not interfere with the safety of the traveling public or the maintenance and operation of the road system. A mailbox installation that does not conform to the provisions of road commission policy will be considered as unauthorized encroachment on the right-of-way and removal shall be administered in accordance with State of Michigan Act 368, Public Acts of 1925, as amended. This policy is consistent with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Postal Service.
What type of mailbox can I install?
Mailboxes shall be of light steel, metal or plastic construction conforming to requirements of the U.S. Postal Service. Newspaper delivery boxes shall be of light steel, metal or plastic construction of minimum dimensions suitable for holding a newspaper. No more than two mailboxes may be mounted on a support structure unless the support structure and mailbox arrangement meet American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Standards. However, lightweight newspaper boxes may be mounted below the mailbox on the side of the mailbox support. Mailbox supports shall not be set in concrete unless the support has been shown to be safe by crash tests when so installed. A single 4-inch x 4-inch or 4-1/2-inch diameter wooden post or a metal post with a strength no greater than a 2-inch diameter standard strength steel pipe and embedded no more than 24 inches into the ground will be acceptable as a mailbox support. A metal post shall not be fitted with an anchor plate but it may have an anti-twist device that extends no more than 10 inches below the ground surface. The post-to-box attachment details should be of sufficient strength to prevent the box from separating from the top post if the installation is struck by a vehicle.
Can the road commission remove my mailbox?
Yes, any mailbox that is found to violate the intent of this policy shall be removed by the owner upon notification. At the discretion of the county road commission and based on an assessment of hazard to the public, the owner will be granted not less than 24 hours nor more than 30 days to remove an unacceptable installation. If not removed within the specified time, the installation can be removed by the road commission at the owner’s expense as provided by Act 368, Public Acts of 1925, as amended.
I want to plant some trees/flowers along the road. Is that ok?
If landscaping is placed too close to the edge of the road it can be a hazard to the traveling public, maintenance vehicles, and pose a potential liability for property owners and, of course, shrubs and trees planted in that area are exposed to damage from traffic, snowplowing, and sweeping operations. Please do not plant any trees or shrubs that may become a vision obstruction or that may grow into a large fixed object that presents danger to motorists anywhere inside the road right-of-way. Trees, landscaping and underground sprinkler systems can ONLY be placed outside of the road right-of-way. Before planting trees or flowers along the roadway, please call your road commission to verify the width of the right-of-way.
Can I fill in the ditch in front of my property?
If there is a ditch along the road in front of your property you should not fill it in even if it doesn’t drain water along the road. The purpose of most roadside ditches is to prevent water from pooling on the roadway during or after a storm, to provide an area for snow storage from snowplowing operations, and to lower the water table beneath the roadbed. Filling in even a fairly shallow roadside ditch can cause serious damage to the road and pavement from frost heave.
Why are you cutting down the trees on my road?
Sometimes roadsides have become overgrown with brush and trees over the years to the point that fairly extensive trimming and cutting is necessary to restore safe sight distance for motorists along the road and to help prevent vehicle collisions. In some areas trees and brush have to be cut in order to obtain the width needed for gravel surfacing. We may also remove dead trees wherever possible to prevent them from falling into the road.
Why can’t salt be put on roads and bridges before it snows?
Putting salt on road surfaces prior to a snowfall wastes time and money since salt often bounces from the dry road during application and, the portion that manages to land in the right location is subject to wind- which blows it off the road before it can do its job. Salt is most effective after snow has accumulated and the temperature is 20° Farenheit or higher. Under these conditions, the salt and snow will mix, melting snow into slush that can be plowed off the pavement. (This melting action will occur within two hours, less if traffic is using the highway.) If the temperature is below 20°F, the salt will have difficulty melting the snow and ice, so other methods are used. Abrasives are often put down for traction. Calcium chloride or other liquid treatments, including sugar beet based products, can be added to enhance the ability to melt the ice and snow. The road commission may change the mixture of salt and additives based on the ground temperature.
What is the importance of pavement and ground temperatures? Why not rely on just air temperature?
The ability of a deicing agent to melt snow and ice depends on the temperature of the roadway and not the air temperature. During the fall the pavement is often kept warmer than the surrounding air because of the warm soil. During the spring the reverse may be true. The pavement temperatures can be colder than the air because the soil is still frozen from the low winter temperatures. The sun also has a strong influence on the pavement temperatures. It can help heat the pavement and speed the melting process. Air and pavement temperatures can differ by as much as 20°F.
Why would salt be spread on a bare highway after a snowstorm is over?
The projected temperature of the road surface will
impact the final treatment of a road. If plowing operations have finished and a road is left in “black and wet” condition, there is sometimes a danger of the water on the road re-freezing. There are times, especially at night, when this post storm salt application may be necessary.
How do you determine in what order to plow roads?
Road Commissions organize snow plowing operations to service the most heavily traveled roadways first during and after a winter storm. Our first responsibility is to clear primary roads, and state highways. Typically, local roads and streets are among the last to be cleared. If the snow continues to fall or drift we may have to return to the state highways and primary roads before we are able to continue plowing local roads and streets. After those roads are passable, crews move on to clear local paved roads throughout the county. Typically, local subdivision streets and rural gravel roads are cleared after all other higher traffic roads within about two days after the storm. Although our crews may begin plowing/salting several hours before the morning peak traffic, and continue operations into the night, extended winter storms or continuing winds may require crews to continually plow the main high traffic roads and prevent them from reaching subdivision streets or rural gravel roads for several days.
Is it legal to pass a snowplow?
There are no state laws that prohibit passing a snowplow. However, the action of passing can be extremely dangerous because pavement conditions vary across the path taken to pass. Snowplows may be equipped with wing plow blades that can extend anywhere between 2 and 10 feet beyond the width of the truck. This wing plow blade is often not seen because of the snow cloud being kicked up by the snowplow. These wing plows can often weigh as much as a compact car.
A road commission truck pushed snow back into my driveway after I cleaned it out…
Throughout the winter months, our crews will be out clearing the roads during and after snowfalls. At the same time residents are clearing their driveways. Many times while this is going on, a snowplow truck will go by and fill in the end of a freshly cleared driveway with snow from the road, causing frustration and more clearing for residents. Please understand that the road commission’s first priority is the safety of the traveling public and clearing the roads of snow and ice and pushing it off of the road and shoulders, and sometimes into driveways, is a necessary wintertime evil. Residents sometimes call and ask why we cannot pick up the blade when going by their driveway. This is not a practical solution and our drivers would never finish clearing the roads due to the multitude of driveways. There is, however, a method of clearing your driveway that can help minimize the amount of snow (and frustration) during the winter months:
If possible (not always practical), clear your driveway after we have finished plowing the roads
When clearing your driveway, place as much snow as possible in the direction of travel, on the downstream side of the road.
Clear an area upstream from your driveway opening to form a pocket for the snow from the road to go into. The result? More of the snow from the road will go into the pocket and less will wind up in the end of your driveway.(Click here for an illustration)
Why does the road commission push the snow off the road onto the shoulder, only to come back and push the snow farther back on the shoulder?
The road commission usually makes one pass to open the road up so that residents may get in and out. We then come back to widen the road, and then the shoulders for future snow accumulation.
Your plow truck knocked down my mailbox…
Since mailboxes are in the road right-of-way they are sometimes knocked down by road commission trucks when plowing snow or performing other road maintenance. Policies regarding the replacement of mailboxes and/or posts that have actually been hit by our equipment vary from county to county. If the mailbox or wooden post was broken off from the force of the snow coming off the plow blade, most road commissions will not replace or repair it. Please call your county road commission’s office for more information.
Why do bridges and overpasses freeze before the surface of the road?
Even while the temperature on the road surface is dropping, the heat underneath the road keeps it warm enough to prevent icing as temperatures drop below freezing. Bridges have no way to trap heat, so they continually lose heat and freeze shortly after temperatures hit the freezing point. The bottom line is that a bridge will follow the air temperature very closely. If the air temperature falls below freezing, a bridge’s surface will fall below freezing very quickly causing rain or snow to freeze and stick to the road surface.
I’ve seen snowplows driving along during a storm with their plows raised. Why aren’t they plowing?
There are a couple of reasons plows aren’t always pushing snow. Plows may be in operation only to spread materials, or may be out of materials to spread and headed back to the garage to reload. Another possibility is that the driver does not have the responsibility for the road he is currently on, and is heading elsewhere. Plow routes are designed to minimize travel in between service areas. It is also possible that the road may have been treated with salt or de-icing products and plowing it may remove the mixture before it has an opportunity to work.
Courtesy of the County Road Association of Michigan. www.micountyroads.org