Most of you are familiar with those state maps that lay out the location and length of your township roads. Each is assigned a number and you rely upon it to help when submitting your annual liquid fuels reports on road projects etc. Looking carefully at those maps, you will sometimes observe a length of road and then a No. 2 beneath it. So, a particular stretch of road may be 1.73 miles long, but with that No. 2 under it, it means that this length is shared with the neighboring municipality. Therefore, in theory, both townships have responsibility for these shared roads as they both have frontage and taxpayers along its boundary.
The challenge that arises with these shared roads is how the ongoing maintenance and upgrades will be handled. I am going to be very straightforward with my first comment on this subject. I hate shared roads! Each township has a budget and roads that are a priority in their eyes. You only have so much money to work with, and typically you want to get the biggest bang for your buck. In addition, it should be taken into consideration that one municipality may be better equipped to handle the ongoing maintenance better than the other. For instance, if Township A has a lot of gravel roads, no doubt they have a grader, York Rake, and a rubber-tired roller if they are taking proper care of their roads. Township B may have primarily asphalt roads and may not own a grader, but maybe it has a steel-wheeled roller and a paver. That’s great for paved roads, but somewhat useless for gravel road projects.
Now let’s talk a little about snowplowing. Where does this piece of road fit within the plow route of the respective crews? It may make perfect sense for one crew over the other, given who is in the area and if they have the ability to treat it properly. Obviously, a plow truck with a sand/salt mixture is not a wise choice for this road if it is gravel. And just a straight treatment of antiskid on a paved section may not be enough if the road is heavily traveled and snow buildup is a problem. The bottom line is that an agreement must be arranged so that each municipality’s responsibilities are clearly defined. I have seen various agreements where one township does the plowing and the other does the regular maintenance – such as grading, trimming trees, ditching, and filling potholes. In each agreement, it should be outlined as to how major improvements will be handled. Those items are typically tar and chip, asphalt overlays, major pipe replacement, and other more expensive maintenance procedures.
Here’s a real example (using Township A and Township B in place of the real names) of how failure to properly oversee maintenance of shared roads can cause major headaches down the road -- pun intended.
This particular shared road was an absolute mess. Township A did all the maintenance on the road. Being as it was far removed from the rest of the township and only had a handful of residents, this road didn’t get much attention. It was so bad that four-wheel-drive trucks couldn’t make it through the mud in the spring. Milk trucks and farm tractors added to the degradation of the road in the springtime. Then someone built a new house on the road in Township A. When this resident realized his township was not maintaining the road, he asked Township B for help.
Recognizing the poor state of the road and the inability of Township A to get this back into shape, Township B agreed to make the necessary improvements to make the road passable again. My tombstone epitaph will read, "if you don't have a base, you don't have a road." That was certainly the case for this goat path. Township B added oversized stone to the mud and gradually built it up and finished it off with some crushed concrete and 2A stone. This was compacted in lifts and then graded to provide good water runoff, most likely the most important thing for a gravel road. The township also improved water runoff with new ditching and weep lines.
Township A and Township B shared in stone costs and trucking, each using some of its trucks to get the job done. The collaboration was such a success that Township A eventually agreed to hand over responsibility of the road to Township B. While that was a win for the residents on that road, it added to the maintenance costs for Township A.
That was just one example of several I’ve seen where roads are left largely unattended for 20 years or more. Typically, like the case I described above, it’s a road with few residents and in far-flung areas. In short, those roads just don’t get the attention or priority as more visible roads with more traffic and residents. It is in situations like this that Keystone Municipal Solutions can help with the big picture. They have team members who are intimately familiar with the daily operation of a municipality and are fully aware of the short and long-term conundrums that can show up unexpectedly. This is one area that you don’t want to go it alone; get professional help to ensure an amicable solution is reached.
And yes, positive outcomes from shared road maintenance agreements are possible. One example is when two townships who shared equal responsibility for maintenance of a shared road, established a turnaround at the road’s halfway point. Essentially, the townships split the road costs in half. This worked out great and if a complaint did arise, which was rare, the residents were able get their concerns addressed without having to decipher which municipality was responsible for getting it fixed.
If your municipality is facing questions or challenges related to shared road maintenance, perhaps it’s time to call on the experts to provide you with the alternatives to the situation. The team at KMS, is well qualified to review all your concerns and give you solutions to the problems at hand. After all, it is for the good of the citizens and usually, this effort is reciprocated in the future once good relations are established. So, let’s “fire this thing up” and get this road back in shape. Gosh, I hate shared roads.