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Frequently Asked Questions


Frequently Asked Questions About Funding

For "Frequently Asked Questions" about funding for the Genesee Road Commission, you may download the Genesee Road Commission - Funding document below.

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The Tax Question

We are all sensitive to the amount of taxes we pay, and some are downright upset. Statements similar to the following are frequently heard: "I pay all these taxes; why can't I get my roads fixed?"

Let's first look at which taxes go to maintain roads. The principal source of funding for the Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), is the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF), which is made up primarily of the state fuel tax and license plate fees. These are also the main sources of road funds for Michigan's cities and villages.

The state fuel tax is 19 cents a gallon and, thus, represents a fixed income to those entities.

In fact, if you have purchased a new car in the last few years that gets better gas mileage than your previous one, odds are you're driving as much or more than before, but actually paying less in fuel tax to maintain the roads.

Some federal fuel tax revenues are available, but the bulk of these go only to MDOT for projects on state highways (freeways and roads with a 'M', 'I', or 'US' in their name such as M-15, I-75, or US-23).

Many cities and villages supplement their MTF revenues with additional funds from their general fund or from some other source. They discovered long ago that the MTF revenues were not sufficient to maintain their street systems.

Since GCRC is not part of county general government, it has no general fund or other sources available to dip into.

A common misconception is that property taxes automatically go for roads. It is true that some of those general funds that a city or village might use on its streets could be property taxes. It is also true that if a community chooses to contribute to a specific GCRC road construction project, it may use some property taxes.

However, by law, property taxes collected by county general government cannot be given to GCRC for roadwork. Thus, no property taxes are available to GCRC for snow removal, pothole patching, etc.

Some cities, villages and even townships have passed special millages for road improvements, but a vote of the taxpayers was necessary.

We do pay a lot of taxes, so where do those dollars go?

Upon reviewing the latest national data, it is interesting to note that Michigan ranks among the top states in expenditures per capita for health, education and welfare. It ranks in the bottom nine in expenditures per capita for road maintenance and construction. And, this has been the case for at least 35 years.

Obviously, Michigan's top priorities have not included roads. Thus, if you travel in another state that appears to have much better roads, it could be because roads have been higher on that state's priority list.

It appears that there are three choices:

  1. Spend more on roads and less on welfare, health and education;
  2. raise new revenues for roads; or
  3. put up with our deteriorating road system.

Which do you prefer? In Genesee County, as in most of South East Michigan, a large part of the problem has been the impact of all the development that has occurred in recent years. Unfortunately, road funding does not automatically benefit from development.

Also, Genesee County does not get back all the state-collected fuel taxes and license plate fees it generates and sends to Lansing. Click here for more information on road funding.

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What can we do about the traffic congestion problem in Genesee County?

Our roads are becoming more congested because the volumes of traffic using the roads often exceed the capacity of those roads.

Why not just get the traffic moving much faster so that you get that many more vehicles through an area in an hour?

If you look at the traffic engineering textbooks, you find that the optimal speed for moving traffic on a lane of roadway to get the highest number of vehicles through an area is about 32 mph.

So why not increase in the speed and get even more through? Because it is important to maintain a safe stopping distance between vehicles, and as you increase the speed, that distance also increases. At 32 mph, it is theoretically possible to move about 2,000 vehicles per hour on one lane of pavement. Any faster or slower and the number is less than 2,000.

In reality, however, we move more than 2,000 vehicles an hour on some of our major roads. How is that possible? Because people frequently follow the car ahead much too closely for the speed they are traveling. This also partially explains why we have so many rear-end accidents.

Obviously, if we could figure out a way to safely run vehicles very closely together at high speeds, we would do a lot to solve our road capacity problems. Actually, there is ongoing research in this area. In the area of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), much research is taking place on such subjects as collision avoidance technology that may someday allow this.

Some ITS installations such as FAST-TRAC in Oakland County uses either video imaging devices or pavement "loops" connected to computers to continuously monitor the flow of traffic through an intersection. The video imaging devices use video images of the intersection to automatically count vehicles in the intersection. The loops are wires buried in the intersection pavement which sense the number of vehicles driving over them. Both methods send second-by-second data to a computer which then adjusts the signal cycle in "real time" to best meet the demand present at that moment.

Studies by objective third parties, such as Michigan State University, have concluded that the FAST-TRAC system is reducing the amount of time motorists wait in traffic jams at busy intersections. The program, however, cannot completely eliminate congestion at intersections where the traffic volume exceeds the roadway capacity.

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Why don't developers pay more for adding traffic to our area?

Traffic volumes have been growing in our area due to development, and it's not likely that the necessary road improvements will occur before the traffic problems get worse.

If the increase in traffic is the result of the development, why not get the developers to pay for some of the costs of needed road improvements? That sounds like a great way to get the burden off the taxpayers' backs.

Can we do that? Yes and no. Yes, we can get the developers to pay for some of the costs of needed road improvements, but we probably cannot get them to pay for everything. In fact, Genesee's communities have been fairly successful at getting developers to pay for improvements to GCRC roads. Many of the gravel road paving projects in recent years have been paid for by developers.

Here are three methods of collecting money from developers, the first two of which are currently available to cities, villages and townships.

Special Assessment Districts

A bounded area or district is identified and property owners within the district are assessed their share of the cost of road improvements on the basis of road frontage, acreage or some combination thereof.

You may be familiar with this as being a method for getting subdivision streets paved. However, it can also be used at office and commercial locations.

Local Development Finance Authorities (LDFA)

Once again, a district is identified in which development is anticipated.

The concept here is to "capture" the increase in property tax revenues that results from new development within the district.

The property tax level that came from the previously undeveloped land continues to flow to the community, school district and county, but the amount of new property tax revenue resulting from the new building on the land is captured for a limited number of years and is available for infrastructure improvements such as road improvements.

Some local school districts have opposed this approach since they must wait to realize an increase in their revenue from the new development.

Others have recognized the importance of planned development and timely infrastructure improvements and have worked with the local community in putting together this type of financing.

Development Impact Fees

Here an actual fee is charged to the developer to pay for road improvements needed to serve the traffic generated by the development.

A traffic impact zone or district is identified around an area of expected development, and the type and cost of needed road improvements to serve the new development are determined.

A fee is calculated proportional to the amount of traffic generated. Thus, a developer of a large complex would pay proportionally more than the developer of a smaller complex next door.

The money CANNOT be used to correct existing deficiencies, so if the roads are already congested, the community must come up with funds from some other source to improve them to an acceptable level before charging the developers for even more improvements to serve new traffic.

This method of financing is used extensively in states such as Florida, California and Colorado. It is not currently available here, since the state Legislature must first pass enabling legislation. The Road Commission has attempted to get the legislation passed in the past.

Could a community use a combination of two or more of the above methods? Possibly, so long as nobody is being asked to pay twice for the same improvements.

Even if we were able to pull together all three, it may not provide us with a total solution to our growing road problems. Note that each method requires the creation of a defined area or district.

What about that next major congested intersection just outside the district? Where will the funds come from for that?

In the best-case scenario, if all these methods were available, it is doubtful that there would be a lot of districts, with all of them overlapping each other. There would be gaps, and the roads in between would need to be improved also.

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What is the Road Commission doing to help protect our environment?

Our society is becoming increasingly sensitive about our environment and rightfully so.

We are concerned about what corporations and even public agencies are doing that might damage the environment and make this a less pleasant place to live, especially for our children.

Road agencies are subject to this scrutiny, and yes, they can do things that could affect the environment. Fortunately, most have become aware of the need to protect the environment.

As a result of the National Environmental Protection Act of 1970 and the Michigan Protection Act shortly thereafter, road agencies must carefully document all potential damage resulting from major, federally funded projects and review alternatives to mitigate damages.

Construction projects in wooded areas are reviewed, including with field visits, to determine if significant trees could be saved by adjusting the road alignment or by any other means.

Unfortunately, the Road Commission sometimes puts a great deal of effort into saving trees along a road during an improvement of that road, only to then watch a developer go in and clear the adjacent property of all trees.

Lakes and streams are now being protected from runoff from construction sites via the use of special drainage provisions, straw and in some cases, special fabrics.

New drainage catch basins are now being installed that are designed to trap sediment and floating debris such as oil before it reaches our lakes and streams.

While road agencies such as the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) do use some herbicides, they are now used only at selected locations such as intersections and around signs to keep brush down and maintain sight distances for motorists. Massive spraying of ditches, etc., is no longer done.

Other steps have also been taken. For example, all Road Commission staff handling chemicals are trained and certified to handle them properly.

These materials tend to be contact herbicides, killing only what they touch, as opposed to those that are designed to be absorbed in the soil and kill roots. The latter type is more susceptible to being washed away and into our streams and lakes.

For dust control on gravel roads in the townships, the Road Commission uses brine from its own well. Brine tends to bind with the soil and does not represent a runoff problem. It does, though, contribute to corrosion of vehicles.

The salt used for winter snow maintenance is drawing additional attention. Not only is it corrosive to vehicles, but it does run off into lakes and streams. Sand or salt and sand combinations are used in some situations, but are not as effective overall in keeping traffic moving safely as is salt alone.

Also, sand tends to fill up the storm sewers and adds to the lake and stream sediment problem.
Alternatives to salt (sodium chloride) are constantly being sought, but none that is as effective has yet been found.

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Why isn't litter pickup at the top of the Road Commission's priority list?

Every spring when the snow melts, we are again reminded of what lies along most of our roads, especially our rural gravel roads: litter.

So, who is responsible for cleaning up the trash?

Obviously, since the litter is near the road, it should be the concern of the road agency, right? Maybe, but is it worth pulling someone off a grader to pick up litter so that gravel roads do not get graded as often?

Each year, about six months in advance of the beginning of the new year, the various departments of the Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) put together their work programs. After deducting vacation time, holidays and estimated sick days, the remaining available work days for the crew are then allocated among such things as gravel road grading, pothole filling, shoulder maintenance, drainage work and so on, based on identified needs.

Generally, more of all of that type of work is needed than can be done with the staff available. If something else is added, such as litter pickup, even less of that much-needed work gets done. The results of not doing it can be decreased safety and more accidents, a more rapid deterioration of roads and greater wear and tear on the public's cars from riding on rougher roads. Given those consequences, which would you choose to do?

Litter pickup is a very labor-intensive activity. One suggestion that often comes up is that the road agencies should use those individuals currently occupying space in our local jails to do the work (free labor).

Actually, that was tried a few years ago, and it didn't work out very well.

You may occasionally see some litter pickup along the state highways because the state pays the Road Commission to do it, but they don't pay much. The state has also used kids from the governor's summer work program for disadvantaged youths, but problems exist here also.

The ultimate solution, of course, is to get people to stop dumping and littering.

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Does the Road Commission plan for future projects?

The Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) often hears comments to the effect that the reason we have all these road congestion problems is because of "poor planning." Usually those comments are made by people who are not familiar with the kind or amount of planning that actually occurs.

Road agencies have been working with communities for decades to identify future road needs. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has a five-year construction program detailing what will be built around the state over the next five years to address identified and projected road needs.

The problem is not planning. The problem is funding. Current road funds go for maintaining the existing system. Additional funds are needed to make significant improvements to the system.

Unfortunately, none of the new revenue generated by development goes to road agencies. Those new revenues, namely property taxes, go to the schools, cities, villages or townships, county general government, etc., but not to MDOT or the Road Commission.

Even the best laid plans aren't worth much if the money is not there to carry them out.

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How does the Road Commission determine when and where to put a traffic signal?

Often developers proposing a new subdivision or shopping mall hope to get the Road Commission to install a traffic signal at the entrance to their development to make it easier to get in and out.

If there are already traffic problems in the area, frequently local residents will voice their agreement that what is needed to solve the problem is another traffic signal. It is as if signals are viewed as some sort of cure-all. They are not.

Traffic engineers, in making a determination of whether a signal is or is not "warranted," refer to a manual of guidelines known as the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This manual covers everything from signals, to pavement markings, to signs. Virtually identical manuals are used in every state.

This manual identifies no less than 9 warrants that may be reviewed in determining whether a signal should be installed.

The warrants that receive the closest review, however, are: minimum vehicular volume, interruption of continuous traffic, and accident experience.

The first relates to whether there is sufficient traffic coming out of the entrance or side street in question to consider stopping traffic on the main road.

The second relates to whether or not the traffic is too heavy on the main road for motorists from the side street to pull out.

The last is an indication that the people are having enough difficulty getting out that right-angle accidents are occurring.

All of us have experienced delays pulling out onto main roads from time to time, and the thought may have occurred to us that someone should put a signal at that location so we could get out more easily. But let's take that to the extreme. Let's say that everyone gets the signal they want.

Now you are able to pull out of your sub or shopping center at a signal. You travel two or three blocks, only to have to stop at another signal at another sub or shopping center. And so it goes for your entire trip: stop and go every two or three blocks.

Sure, the signals can be synchronized so that if you travel at a precise speed you can make all of them, but as soon as the car in front of you slows up to make a turn or the truck ahead fails to accelerate fast enough to make the next signal, you are out of synch with the signals.

Consider how long it would now take you to get home from work or shopping.

Some people think that signals actually make the accidents go away. Actually it is possible to end up with more accidents after a signal is installed. However, the type of accidents change from right angle to rear end.

If you were to obtain a listing of the top 200 intersections in the county where the greatest number of accidents were occurring each year, what do you think you would notice about those locations? You would find that all of them are signalized and have been for many years.

Why the accidents? Congestion and the fact that too often people who are frustrated at being delayed will take chances like running yellow lights, or even a red light. How many frustrated drivers would we have with signals every two or three blocks?

The cost of installing a signal is often more than just erecting poles, wires and signal heads. Often road agencies are reluctant to signalize an intersection until the intersection can be widened to provide for a center, left-turn lane.

If that is not done, the chances of rear-end accidents increases. Picture the situation where a driver sees a green light ahead and speeds up to make it, only to realize too late that the car ahead has stopped in the through lane (for lack of a turn lane) to make a left turn at the intersection.

Keep all of the above in mind the next time you are having difficulty accessing a main road and you start thinking how nice it would be if someone put a signal there.

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Which roads are plowed first?

Why does it take so long for our subdivisions to be plowed?

So, how does the Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC) decide which roads get plowed first? Why does it take so long to get subdivision streets plowed? If you cannot be everywhere at once, you've got to set priorities. That is what GCRC does.

GCRC sets priorities primarily by traffic volumes, although other factors such as hills and curves can also affect priority. GCRC prepares winter maintenance guidelines annually, changing them with changing road traffic conditions.

GCRC plows not only county roads, but also the state highways. The roads receiving attention first are those with traffic volumes normally greater than 40,000 vehicles per day.

So, what roads are at the bottom of the priority list? Yes, our subdivision streets. Both the traffic volumes and speeds are lower on subdivision streets, and thus they are done after everything else is taken care of.

Would you really suggest that our subdivision streets be done before I-75, I-475, M-15, Miller Rd. etc. are clear? I doubt it. What is the point of being able to get out of our driveway in a subdivision if we cannot get anywhere on the main roads?

The winter maintenance guidelines spell out the pavement conditions that are to be maintained under various weather conditions, the amount of salt to apply under those conditions, the number of trucks to have ready to roll in the various areas of the county, and even the maximum number of hours that a driver should be allowed to work continuously (16 hours).

Can you imagine driving one of those plows in a snowstorm for 16 continuous hours? Tough job!

Salt is not effective on gravel roads, so it's used primarily on paved roads, and sand on the gravel roads. It is interesting to note that salt begins to lose its effectiveness on paved roads when the temperature drops below 20 degrees.

Probably the two worst situations that can occur for a road agency are a heavy snowstorm that starts just before rush hour and a storm that continues for several days without letting up.

In the first case, traffic slows to a crawl and the trucks cannot move any faster than the traffic, and in the second case, the trucks must stay out on the main roads to keep them open and cannot get into subdivisions.

In response to concerns raised by local officials and residents regarding the response time in getting into subdivisions, GCRC has beefed-up its overtime budgets so that drivers can be sent into the subs in the evenings and on weekends.

But even with the additional overtime funds, GCRC still has more than 1,813 miles of roads and streets to get to, and that includes major county roads and multi-lane state highways. Click here for more information about Genesee County and the Road Commission.

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How are speed limits determined and by whom?

Have you ever watched cars go by your home or business and felt that they were going too fast and perhaps the speed limit was too high?

Complaints regarding the speed of traffic and even petitions for lower speeds are very common.

Ever wonder just how speed limits are determined? Would you believe that, in some cases, it is based on whatever the majority of the existing traffic is traveling? That's right, the speed limits are frequently set following what is called the "85th percentile rule." This rule, which is used nationwide, dictates that whatever speed 85 percent of the traffic is traveling is the appropriate speed for the location in question.

The theory is that most drivers are sensible and will accurately judge on their own the proper speed for the road in question.

They will slow down where there are curves and hills or other factors that might affect vehicle control or sight distance, and will go faster where the road is straight and level with no sight obstructions.

The 85th percentile rule is based on the following: It is generally agreed that with no traffic controls, the driver would adopt a reasonable speed for the prevailing conditions. Further, it is sometimes assumed that a certain percentage (usually 15 percent) of drivers will normally exceed a safe and reasonable speed.

To get an enforceable speed limit set or changed on a main 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.

Before you run out and request a speed study be conducted to reduce the speed on your road, you should know that it is not unheard of to have the state police obtain a speed study, apply the 85th percentile rule and recommend a higher, not lower, speed limit.

Here is an interesting observation: traffic engineers report that based on past radar speed studies they have conducted in subdivisions, the 85th percentile ruling suggests that the speed limit on many subdivision streets should be 30 mph, not the 25 mph mandated by law.

Apparently we don't even drive within the speed limit in our own neighborhoods.

Let's face it, speed limits are only as good as the enforcement behind them. If you are concerned about speeding drivers, are you willing to pay more taxes for additional law enforcement?

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What steps are involved in starting and completing a road project?

We all tend to get impatient when things don't get done as fast as we think they should. If any level of government is involved, we tend to blame bureaucracy and bureaucratic red tape.

Road improvements sometimes take longer than we think they should, but sometimes that is simply due to all the complex steps involved in getting the project done.

The following are some typical steps involved in GCRC road construction projects.

Project Concept Determination

A construction project doesn't just occur because somebody thought it was a good idea. Often a lot of background work has gone on.

For example, if it is a safety project, there has already been an extensive analysis of accident data and a possible field review of the location.

Funding Identification

Everyone operates within budgets of some type. If there are no funds available in the current budget for a project, then it may be delayed and included in next year's budget. If more than one agency is to participate, then several budgets may be affected.

If federal funds are to be used (which is the case for most major GCRC projects), there is an application process that must be followed, and the project may have to compete against other projects around the state or county for those limited federal funds.

If the project loses out, it may have to be delayed until more federal funds are available.

Preliminary Engineering

This is where the surveys are taken and the design work is completed. In Genesee County, this is not always as straightforward as one might expect, since some roads must be designed to wind safely around lakes and wetlands.

Alternative designs may have to be considered, and methods must be chosen to deal with adverse soils (muck for instance), existing traffic and other special conditions.

Environmental Review

Depending on the size of the project and type of funding involved, documentation of the impact of the project on the environment may be required. If it is a very large federally funded project with significant impact, a full statement may have to be prepared with an official public hearing and federal review.

Public Hearings/Informational Meetings

Again, depending on the size and type of project, there may be either a public hearing or informational meeting to solicit comments and concerns and let the local residents and business people know what is being proposed.

Grade Inspection

If federal funds are involved, staff of the Federal Highway Administration will schedule an inspection of the site and review of the plans. They sometimes require changes to the plans, usually involving more design time and higher project costs.

Right of Way Acquisition

Once the design work is far enough along to indicate what additional land is required, personnel from the GCRC begin negotiating with the adjacent property owners for the needed land.

Independent appraisals may be required. If the property owner holds out for more money, action through condemnation procedures may be required.

Bid Letting

All projects are advertised for bids. Contractors bid on the work, and generally, the work is let to the lowest qualified bidder.

Construction

The project could probably be built pretty fast if we could just close the road and turn the contractor loose. However, we are seldom able to do that.

Most of the time, the project must be built while traffic continues to move through the area.
Sometimes a temporary road must be built to handle the traffic while the construction of the main road is under way. All of this means time and additional money.

During construction, the Road Commission will be inspecting and testing materials being used. Obviously, weather can also delay the construction of the project.

Keep the above in mind the next time you hear that a road is supposed to be improved, and it doesn't seem to happen quite as quickly as you expected.

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Why doesn't Genesee County have more mass transit?

As traffic volumes grow and our roads become more congested, a common criticism is that instead of widening all the roads, we should be increasing public transportation services.

This seems to be a popular solution to some who are looking for ways to get those "other guys" off the road.

Traditional public transportation, found in more densely populated urban areas such as New York City or even parts of Detroit, may not provide an immediate solution for our road congestion problems in Genesee County.

Due to the diverse commuting patterns resulting from the various work sites in Genesee County, commuter rail lines would probably not be able to serve enough trips to justify the cost of running them.

How do we know this?

Past surveys of employees at major work sites in Genesee County have identified those neighbors who work near where you work.

How many people might catch the same bus as you, and how close would a normal bus stop be to all of your homes?

What incentive would there be for you and your neighbors to walk that distance, wait for a bus, and wait while riding it for the bus to pick up other riders along the way?

If the price of gas is cheap, employers provide free parking, and family incomes are high enough to buy the necessary number of vehicles for everyone to drive who wants to, the necessary incentives for overcoming the inconveniences and using the more traditional forms of public transportation may simply not be there.

There are unconventional forms of public transportation that are more convenient, more flexible, and thereby a more viable partial solution to our congestion problems.

Those alternatives are sometimes referred to as "paratransit", and include such things as carpools, van pools, dial-a-ride, subscription bus services, taxis, jitneys, etc.

Obviously some people are already involved in such things as carpools and van pools. Note the park and ride lots at the I-75 interchanges.

"Your Ride" Dial-a-ride service is provided in Genesee County, principally for the elderly and handicapped. A paid driver is provided and riders call in, sometimes a day or more in advance, to receive the service.

Subscription bus service is similar to dial-a-ride. Commuters sign up to be picked up at or near their home every morning and delivered to a specific destination. A return service is provided at a given time in the afternoon. The driver and vehicle may then be used for dial-a-ride type services during mid-day.

Can more be done with all these various forms of paratransit, and could it help with our congestion problems?

Yes, a lot more could be done, and it could help (although not solve) our traffic problems.
Higher fuel prices would be an obvious incentive. If employers were to start charging for parking spaces, that would help also.

Unfortunately, many of those individuals who voice their support for these more unconventional services assume that all those "other" people clogging up the roadways will use them, but he or she will not have to.

Providing services for the "other guy" seldom works.

Many of us today enjoy the privacy and relative convenience of our own cars. What would it take for YOU to give up that privacy and convenience?

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Can I put rocks across my lawn to keep cars off my grass?

Sometimes residents place rocks along the roadway in front of their homes to keep vehicles off their lawns. This is done primarily on residential streets that don't have curbs.

These rocks can be real safety hazards. If a vehicle leaves the roadway, rocks won't stop these out-of-control vehicles, just damage them and possibly injure the occupants. A rock could be hit by a vehicle sending it flying and possibly injuring residents. Pedestrians, including children, can trip on rocks and possibly fall into the street.

The area where the rocks are placed is usually not private property; it is within the public right of way. The property line is usually between 17 and 20 feet from the roadway.

Generally, a permit is required to install anything within the public right of way. The agency that has jurisdiction over the road (city, road commission or state) is obligated to maintain safe public roads, including the right of way outside the paved portion. The road agency can seek legal relief for damages from persons responsible for hazards placed within the right of way.

Vehicles tear up the lawn, but rocks are hazards, and life has a greater value than grass and landscaping. A roadside clear of obstructions and hazards allows drivers to regain control of their vehicles.

In addition to rocks in the right of way, other items can pose serious traffic safety hazards: solid flower garden borders of decorative timbers, mail boxes (especially those installed on large brick, concrete, or steel posts), sign posts and poles, fences, trees, bushes, etc. In addition to the physical hazard of something in or near the right of way line, these items can cause a sight distance problem, especially at intersections and driveways.

Property owners should review their plans with city, village or township officials before anything is put in or near the public right of way.

The perception of insufficient traffic law enforcement is not a good reason to create a serious traffic safety hazard for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and residents by placing rocks in the right of way. Another solution is to report speeders and reckless drivers to the local police.

Provided by the Traffic Improvement Association
2187 Orchard Lake Rd.
Sylvan Lake, Michigan 48320
(248) 334-4971

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Will a 'stop' sign slow traffic on our street?

Stop signs installed in the wrong places for the wrong purposes usually create more problems than they solve.

One common misuse of stop signs is to arbitrarily interrupt traffic, either by causing it to stop or by causing such an inconvenience that motorists are forced to use other routes. Studies conducted in many parts of the country show that there is a high incidence of intentional violations where stop signs are installed as "nuisances" or "speed breakers." These studies show that speed was only reduced in the immediate vicinity (about 100 to 150 feet) of the "nuisance" stop signs. But, speeds were actually higher between stop signs than they would have been if these signs had not been installed. These same studies show that drivers increase their speeds between unwarranted stop signs to make up for the lost time.

Because of these studies and the increased speeds of drivers on streets with unwarranted stop signs, the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices clearly states that "Stop signs should not be used for speed control."

At the right place and under the right conditions, a stop sign tells drivers and pedestrians who has the right of way. Nationally recognized standards have been established to determine when stop signs should be used. These standards, or "warrants," are:

  1. Intersections of a less important road with a main road where the normal right of way rule is unduly hazardous,
  2. A street entering a through highway or street,
  3. Un-signalized intersections in a signalized area, or
  4. Other intersections where a combination of high speed, restricted view and serious crash record indicates a need for control by the stop sign.

Before a stop sign can be installed, a traffic study must be conducted to determine the prevalent speeds of vehicles, sight distance restriction between all approaching vehicles and to analyze crash data.

Prior to the application of these stop sign warrants, consideration should be given to less restrictive measures, such as a yield sign.

Most drivers are reasonable and prudent, but, when confronted with unreasonable restrictions, they frequently violate them and develop a general contempt for all traffic controls - often with tragic results.

Provided by the Traffic Improvement Association
2709 South Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302
(248) 334-4971

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Won't a 'children at play' sign help protect our kids?

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.

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. To be effective, traffic controls should meet five basic requirements:

  1. Fulfill a need,
  2. Command attention,
  3. Convey a clear, simple meaning,
  4. Command the respect of road users, and
  5. Give adequate time for proper response.

"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.

Specific warnings 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.

Provided by the Traffic Improvement Association
2709 South Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302
(248) 334-4971

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What are warrants for traffic control devices?

A warrant for any traffic control device (sign, signal or pavement marking) is the minimum criteria that must be met before such a device can be installed. Meeting a warrant does not mean a traffic control device must be installed. The Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices spells out these warrants to ensure that each device:

  1. Fulfills a need,
  2. Commands attention,
  3. Conveys a clear, simple meaning,
  4. Commands the respect of road users, and
  5. Gives adequate time for proper response

TRAFFIC SIGNALS have 11 warrants, at least one of which must be met before a signal can be installed. These warrants state the number of vehicles, pedestrians, crashes or combination of these that must exist before a signal can be installed.

STOP SIGNS have their own set of four Warrants:

  1. Intersections of a less important road with a main road where the normal right-of-way rule is unduly hazardous,
  2. Street entering a through highway or street,
  3. Un-signalized intersection in a signalized area, or
  4. Other intersections where a combination of high speed, restricted view and serious crash record indicates a need for control by the stop sign.

Prior to the application of these stop sign warrants, consideration should be given to less restrictive measures, such as a yield sign.

Any devices that are not in the manual are not traffic controls and cannot be used. These include "slow children" and "slow" signs. In addition to meeting the warrants, regulatory signs (stop, speed limits, parking, etc.) must also have an official Traffic Control Order signed by the traffic engineer and filed with the local clerk.

The decision to install a traffic control device should be made on the basis of an engineering study, the warrants and engineering judgment by a qualified traffic engineer. Effective and safe traffic control depends on the appropriate application of traffic control devices and reasonable law enforcement. These warrants are based on that concept.

Provided by the Traffic Improvement Association
2709 South Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302
(248) 334-4971

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Mailboxes: A safety concern?

Mailbox installation may seem simple, but residents need to think about safety before they install a new mailbox. Mailboxes that are set firmly into the ground, and/or have large posts, can become a fixed-object hazard. Mailboxes that are not fixed properly to their support can break loose and become dangerous projectiles, endangering motorists and residents. Click here to view the GCRC mailbox guidelines and damage policy.

When installing a mailbox, residents should look at a few issues before selecting a location. Safety and convenience of both the mail carrier and the patron must be addressed. A mailbox should not be installed where a person will have to walk along the shoulder of a road for more than 200 feet. The mailbox should also be located in an area visible to motorists, but should not be placed too close to the roadway or the usable shoulder. It should be placed on the right side of the road in the direction that the postal employee is traveling and on the far side of the patron's driveway.

The U.S. Postal Service has regulations for mailboxes and mailbox height. It does not have any regulations regarding mailbox installation. The U.S. Postal Service only approves certain mailbox types and requires that the bottom of the box be 42 to 48 inches above the ground. This height is at windshield level, and is the main reason for having the mailbox firmly attached to the post. A mailbox that becomes unattached can break through the windshield of a vehicle and possibly injure the occupants.

The mailbox should be approved by the U.S. Postal Service, and should be as lightweight as possible. No more than two mailboxes should be fastened to the same support, and a distance equal to three-quarters the height of the mailbox should be left as a space between the boxes. The mailbox should be attached to the support firmly to prevent it from coming off and possibly injuring motorists and residents.

Improper support systems, such as concrete or sand-filled containers, and thick metal pipes, can be hazardous to motorists. Support should be made of lightweight materials that will easily break away. If metal pipes are used, the pipe should not have a diameter greater than two inches. Wood posts should not be greater than four inches square, or have a diameter of more than four-and-one-half inches. The post should not be more than 24 inches into the ground and should not be set in concrete. By following these guidelines, the mailbox post will either break or be moved rather than be a safety hazard for motorists and residents.

Before installing a mailbox, residents should contact the local permit department to determine if there are any mailbox ordinances in their community. Click here to view the GCRC mailbox guidelines and damage policy.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) has published a guide for mailbox location and assembly titled, "A Guide For Erecting Mailboxes on Highways." AASHTO can be contacted at: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Suite 225, 44 North capitol Street, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 624-5800.

Provided by the Traffic Improvement Association
2709 South Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302
(248) 334-4971

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Why can't we use "speed bumps"?

A speed bump is a bump of asphalt about a foot wide, 3 to 4 inches high, and placed laterally across the traveled portion of the road. The speed bump poses an increased hazard to the unwary, a challenge to the daredevil, a disruption of the movement of emergency vehicles, the cause of an undesirable increase in noise, and a real problems for snow removal.

Because speed bumps have considerable potential for liability suits, Michigan has officially rejected them as a standard traffic control device on public streets.

Tests of various experimental designs have demonstrated the physical inability of a speed bump to successfully control the speeds of all types of vehicles. The purpose of a speed bump is to make the ride over it uncomfortable for the driver, thus encouraging him/her to reduce their speed. The driver of a soft-sprung sedan can experience a more comfortable ride over a speed bump at a lower or higher speed, because of the vehicle's suspension system. On the other hand, a vehicle with tighter suspension (school bus, fire engine, moving van, etc.) must virtually stop before going over a speed bump.

Often these devices are suggested to combat speeding or "through" vehicles. If speeding is the problem, studies must be conducted to determine the extent of the problem. Other, more effective steps can be taken to decrease the speeds of vehicles or number of speeders. Often, there are a few speeders who cause most of the problems. If "through" traffic is the problem, it is often the symptom of a traffic-related problem on a nearby major street. The real problem should be determined, analyzed and corrected.

The control of speeding in neighborhoods is a widespread concern which requires the residents' compliance, patience and persistent law enforcement efforts, not speed bumps.

Provided by the Traffic Improvement Association
2187 Orchard Lake Rd., Suite 140
Sylvan Lake, Michigan 48320
(248) 334-4971

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