38 years instead of 66 to rebuildPublished 11:35am Thursday, October 22, 2009
By JOHN EBY
CASSOPOLIS – At last year’s road summit, Louis Csokasy said if someone started in the corner of Cass County and spent money at current rates, it would take 66 years to rebuild the road system.
“Right now, with the effort we put forward this year with the townships, the road commission and the people working at the road commission, we’ve got that down to 38 years,” he informed the Board of Commissioners Thursday night. “Before everybody pops champagne, however, I’ll tell you that a road lasts 20 to 25 years, so we’re still losing ground, we’re just not losing it as fast.”
Csokasy is a stickler for continuous improvement, charting reams of data over time to measure whether performance is better or worse. One goal is to shave response time from a month to three weeks.
“A week ago last Tuesday we had a storm come through with 60 mph winds,” Csokasy related. “We responded to 39 calls before most people were up. We had all of the calls cleared that day.”
“There’s something else in this chart,” he said. “We say roads last 20 years, but because we spent a lot of money, a lot of effort and a lot of time talking about preventive maintenance, we’ve got a tick up. We spent our federal stimulus money on chip and seal, which nobody liked, including me. But we actually lengthened the life of our roads to a little over 21 years. We made a breakthrough in 2009. Yes, the stimulus helped us tremendously, but we chipped and sealed over 13 miles of road – a record – without it.”
In 2009, the road commission completed 32 miles of chip and seal, regraveled 5.68 miles in the Marcellus area and paved 21.92 miles of county roads.
“Gravel roads need to be upgraded. They wear out in about 10 years. That crunching sound is rocks being ground up and turning that rocky road into sand,” he said.
Two miles of Maple Road in Marcellus Township alone consumed 44,000 tons of gravel.
Csokasy, a former road commissioner who became manager last March, began, “We’ve tried to change our process at the road commission so all 53,000 people within the County of Cass are customers.”
So he wouldn’t turn his back to commissioners, he brought his wife, Donna, to operate the projector while he pivoted around in the center of the horseshoe-shaped commission, with Chairman Bob Wagel at the head of two rows of seven representatives.
There are 1,014 miles of roads in the county – 772 paved and 242 gravel.
Of 1,014 miles, 269 are primary roads and 745 county local – designations which affect funding formulas.
Cass County Road Commission either owns or is responsible for right-of-ways on 8,000 acres of land, which makes it one of the largest property users alongside major farm operations.
Cass County is one of only three with its own asphalt plants. It costs $75,000 a mile to asphalt a road.
“We’re all living under financially difficult times,” Csokasy said, adding, “This is not new for the Cass County Road Commission. Our major revenue source is the MTF (Michigan Transportation Fund). We get our money primarily from a tax on gasoline. Not on the dollar value of the gasoline, but on the gallon. This chart shows that number has gone down as our major funding source every year since 2003. It goes down around 2 percent a year. This year we forecast it would go down 2.5 percent. The Michigan Legislature projected it would go down 4.8 percent. Personally, I think I’m right and they’re wrong. We’ll see at the end of the year. It doesn’t look like much of a decrease until you realize the difference between 2003 and where we are today is about half a million dollars a year,” Csokasy said.