Gravel road speed up for discussion again

Up until November 9, 2006, the speed limit on a hilly portion of Dutton Road dividing Rochester Hills and Oakland Township was 25 mph.

But on that date, a revision to the Michigan Vehicle Code wiped out local control in the interest of uniformity. Gravel, residential roads reverted to a 55 mph speed limit. Oakland County residents have been complaining ever since.

Now, two Oakland County legislators have introduced legislation that would allow the county road commission to have the final say in counties with 900,000 to 1.5 million population. This isn’t the first attempt at undoing what was done; another Oakland County legislator tried once before. The current pair of bills was sponsored by Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake) and Sen. Jim Marleau (R-Orion Township).

The Road Commission for Oakland County has responsibility for 850 miles of gravel roads, including all township roads. The city of Rochester Hills has jurisdiction over 23.9 miles of gravel roads, which are spread throughout the city.

Captain Mike Johnson, commander of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Rochester Hills substation, said he hears plenty of complaints about speed on the city’s gravel roads, particularly Washington Road.

“We’ve received a lot of complaints in a lot of areas,” he said. “I think I would like to see some local control. I don’t think it’s working out perfectly the way it is.”

No matter what the speed limit is, the law requires drivers to drive within a safe speed based on conditions at the time. Johnson said conditions vary a lot on gravel roads like Dutton, which is narrow and hilly in spots.

“There are times of year when it’s fine, and times of year when it’s not fine,” he said.

Former Rochester Hills City Councilwoman Linda Raschke can attest to that. She lives at the top of a hill on Dutton in a heavily wooded area. There’s not a lot of sight distance from her driveway, which has a large red stop sign at its end.

“To begin with, I think roads should fall under the jurisdiction under which they are governed,” she said. “One size does not fit all.”

School buses and track teams use Dutton, she said. “One car out of control and you have a tragedy.”

Neighbors Linda Raschke and Lee Zendel at the top of their hill on Dutton Road.

Despite the mild winter, there was recently a seven-car pile-up, she said. “People go over this hill like it’s Mt. Holly,” she said. “It is unsafe.”

Craig Bryson, a spokesman for the Road Commission for Oakland County, said statistics don’t bear out that concern.

“We haven’t seen an increase in accidents since the 25 mph speed limit was lifted,” he said. “Both our speed studies and the state police speed studies over the years have shown it doesn’t make a difference.”

In 2006, the road commission favored keeping local control, Bryson said. Now that the signs have all been changed out, he said it would cost $220,000 to replace them all again. He believes drivers weren’t driving 25 anyway, even when it was posted.

Still, he acknowledges that Oakland County is unique in its combination of population, traffic and gravel roads. “We have many more cases of subdivisions on gravel roads, rather than farms,” he said.

The current legislation, House Bill 4037 and Senate Bill 0052, were both referred to committees in January. Both would allow a city, village or township to ask the road commission to change a speed limit on a residential gravel road.

Lee Zendel, who’s lived on Dutton in Rochester Hills since 1977, said traffic has worsened since Dutton was connected to Lapeer Road, particularly since Walton Boulevard underwent reconstruction. He would like to go back to having a speed limit, rather than the default, unposted limit.

Zendel warns visitors never to back out of his driveway, “because they can’t see you and, because of the lay of the land, you can’t see them either.”

Speak Your Mind