Road commission delays plan to turn roads to gravel
Published 9:21 am Thursday, June 18, 2015
BENTON HARBOR — A plan to turn more than 45 miles of roads in Berrien County into gravel was delayed — if not cancelled all together — by the Berrien County Road Commission during Wednesday’s regular meeting.
Road Commissioner Jess Minks, of Buchanan, initiated the move to cancel the plan, saying the road commission should work with municipalities to determine the best course of action in their specific areas.
At the heart of the issue is a lack of funding for the road commission to maintain roads to a standard that most residents would like. The road commission receives the majority of its funding through the state’s gas tax, which hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years.
Road Commission Director Louis Csokasy said so many of the county’s roads are in such poor condition that they have been classified as “failing” roads. The only way to fix failing roads with the money available would be to revert the roads back to gravel as patching spots wouldn’t work and repaving is too expensive.
“People perceive it as a step backwards and I agree with them,” he said. “My response is that I do not have a choice.”
However, the plan to grind the roads into gravel received a lot of opposition from residents throughout the county in recent weeks, including residents in the Mission Hills subdivision and Bond Street in Niles Township.
Many said they wanted the opportunity to raise the money to fix the roads in their specific areas by placing a road millage or special assessment before voters.
Niles Township is going for such a special assessment in the August primary election.
About 50 people attended Wednesday’s meeting, but most were from Pipestone and Sodus townships.
One of the residents — Nancy Wuszke, of Townhall Road in Pipestone Township — has repeatedly asked the road commission to rescind plans to turn her road into gravel.
She applauded the road commission’s decision to do so.
“I just want to say a big ‘thank you’ for your concern in allowing us to do our part,” she said.
Minks said it would have been wrong for the road commission to go forward with its original plan because of the amount of people who spoke out against it.
“I’ve listened to the people and they don’t want us going forward,” he said. “They are willing to work, they are willing to go out and attempt to get a road millage through their township. To me that’s better than us spending all this money to grind the roads up to gravel.”
Berrien County Commissioner John Klimek, who represents the Niles area, attended Wednesday’s meeting. He said he agrees with the road commission’s decision.
“I am very happy they made the decision they did today and have given the public in those areas the right to hold off and see what happens with state money for road funding,” he said.
In the meantime, Minks said roads would remain as they are until municipalities come up with a funding plan, or until the state comes up with more road funding.
If neither of those things happen, the road commission would likely have to revisit the gravel option.
“If they vote not to do that then they are forcing us to make the decision to go forward with what we had originally intended to do,” he said.