Some 50 miles worth of roads that are paved, but in poor condition, will be converted to gravel in Berrien County.
It’s not the first time the county has made such a cost cutting move, but that 50 mile figure is way above the five or so miles the county has typically converted in recent years.
“Nobody wants to move backwards and that’s clearly what we’re doing,” said the Acting Manager of the Berrien County Road Commission, Louis Csakasy. “Our obligation at the road commission is we have to provide a safe road and when we have a situation where a road is broken up extensively and we don’t have the money to actually put it back to what it was, then we have no choice but to revert is to a lower level road.”
The conversion to gravel won’t come cheap. The budget for the project is $1.3 million, but Csokasy estimates it would cost $2 million more to repave. “What the road commission is doing now is making choices between, hard choices, but making choices between the system that should be in place, versus the system we can afford.”
Bailey Road in Pipestone Township already sports a sign that warns drivers of “rough pavement.” Soon, there will be ‘no’ pavement.
“We will actually bring in a very big machine. We will grind it up and when they’re done with it, that grinding operation,” said Csokasy, “We’ll put three inches of gravel over the top of that.”
After years of neglect, Bailey and more than two dozen other rural Berrien County roads are at a breaking point.
“In the road business, what we do is we evaluate roads by condition and traffic volumes,” said Csokasy. “The roads that we’re talking about have actually very low traffic volumes.”
While it’s not uncommon for someone to live on a dirt road in a rural setting, it’s virtually unheard of in a housing subdivision—until now. The plan is to convert two miles of roads in the Mission Hills subdivision in Niles Township and some living there fear it could be the kiss of death to property values.
“Previous in my life, I lived on a gravel road,” said Csokasy. “There’s nothing wrong with them, but when they had a hard surface road, no matter how poor it is, when you revert it to gravel normally it is a pretty negative connotation with that.”
The situation has inspired elected officials in Niles Township to ask voters for more road repair funds this fall. NewsCenter 16 has learned that Pipestone Township officials will consider a ballot initiative of their own at a meeting June 10th.
The Berrien County Road Commission this morning gave final approval to the gravel conversion plan, provided that bids due on June 4th don’t exceed the $1.3 million budget.