About County Road Agencies

County road agency (noun) – A countywide governmental agency comprised of staff and a three- or five-member board of directors. Responsible for safe, efficient roads and bridges. Works collaboratively with county, township and municipal governments, as well as local business communities and economic development agencies, industries and the public.

County road commissions and county road departments exist to maintain safe and efficient roads and bridges for the people of Michigan (P.A. 283, 1909). County road agencies “own” 75 percent of Michigan’s road miles, which means 90,000 miles of roads and 5,700 bridges.

In addition, county road agencies perform maintenance work under contract for the Michigan Department of Transportation in 63 counties.

Michigan has the fourth-largest system of local roads in the US! And we’re one of only about 20 states that must manage several freeze-thaw cycles per year and months of snow and ice. That’s important to remember when reviewing national statistics!

County road workers are government employees. They’re usually on the job by 7 a.m., and on-call 24/7 and 365 days a year as road conditions dictate.

They are public servants with a business attitude.

About County Road Agencies

County road agencies are in regular communication with leadership from townships, cities, villages and tribal governments in their county. County road agencies also work with the local business community to assess road needs for current and future industries.

Input like this helps shape the way transportation asset management is practiced by county road agencies and ensures communities’ needs are met – as well as current funding allows, anyway.

A 360-degree survey by the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy found that local leaders in Michigan have a very positive view about their relationship with county road agencies. Road commissions received 78 percent approval with regard to their relationships with local government; 76 percent approval for timeliness of response; 68 percent for fairness of decisions, 65 percent approval for quality of road work (which is particularly appreciated during this time of difficult funding), and 67 percent overall satisfaction.

The U of M Michigan Public Policy Survey (May 2015) may be read here.

A History Lesson

In the early 1900s, Michigan roads were planned, built and maintained at the township level of government. Residents recognized the inefficiency and lack of coordinated planning that occurred by handling roads at the township level.

The quality of the road surface, choice of routes, road widths and other road features varied widely, which did not make for good transportation for farm wagons or the new horseless carriage. Ever wondered why a “country road” made a small jog? It’s a little remnant of Michigan history.

County road commissions were created expressly to ensure a county-wide seamless system of roads and bridges under local control. This system has worked well over the years, with county road agencies consulting with townships as well as cities and villages, and making the most efficient use of resources.

Over time, the Michigan Department of Transportation evolved to take care of interstate and intrastate highways. Today, MDOT cares for eight percent of Michigan roadways.

In recent years, a half-dozen counties consolidated their road commissions into county government operations for a variety of reasons. Consequently, the term “county road agencies” refers to both county road departments and county road commissions that have an independent board of directors.

What was once a disparate patchwork of farm-to-market routes jogging through the Michigan countryside has been developed into a modern road system connecting Michigan cities and villages. From seasonal byways to multi-late urban freeways, today’s county roads enable the efficient movement of people, goods and services across Michigan.

Want to learn more?

Click here to view “The History of Roads in Michigan,” by Dorothy Pohl.

Click here to view “From fixing your own to fuel taxes, how Michigan built its roads,” by Laura Gibbons.

Road Maintenance FAQs

What is a hard road surface?

Seal Coating is a relatively low-cost method of preserving low-volume pavements. This “seal” prevents water from freezing in the cracks and breaking up the pavement, causing potholes to form over time. Peastone is used to cover the emulsion in the cracks and provides a skid-resistant surface to improve safety.

Seal Coating is a surface treatment that does not fill any existing bumps, holes, or irregularities and does not improve “the ride.” Road agencies sealcoat roads that are in generally good condition rather than waiting for them to deteriorate to the point that extensive patching is necessary.

Note however, that as vehicles travel over the new surface small rocks may come loose under the tires. When a motorist encounters a newly chip sealed road, which will be marked with “Loose Gravel” signs, the best option is to reduce vehicle speed and keep room between all other cars.

All-season roads have been designed and built with additional strength and durability to withstand truck traffic year round. They are not subject to reduced load restrictions often placed on other Michigan roads during the early spring because they are built to withstand.

Seasonal Weight Restrictions are legal limits placed on the loads trucks may carry. During late winter and early spring, when seasonal thawing occurs, the maximum allowable axle load and speed is reduced to prevent weather-related breakup of roads. See Seasonal Weight Restrictions for more information.

I live on a gravel road and would like to have it paved. How can I do that?

Primary Roads are selected for paving based on a pavement inventory rating system. This system takes into consideration the physical condition of the road, the average daily traffic and the physical ride quality of the pavement.

Local Roads are typically selected by townships based on concerns from the public and the funds available to cost share with the County Road Commission. Many local roads have been improved using private development funds, contributions from Township government or by special assessment charges on properties accessing a particular road.

By law, an initial road pavement in Michigan must be a mix of county and other dollars. Township governments have historically been supportive of county road repairs and you may wish to contact your local government about availability of funds for future road improvement plans.

You can also obtain a petition for your Road Commission to set up a special assessment district. When signed by 51 percent or more of owners who have property on a road, such a petition authorizes the Road Commission to set up a district, prepare plans, estimate costs and hold public hearings on the proposed project. All properties accessing the road would share the expense of the project, which can be spread over a period of up to ten years.

I cannot leave my windows open because of the dust. Who do I contact?

Dust control operations and policies vary by county. Typically townships share the costs of dust control with the road commission. Contact your township for specific answers on dust control applications.

Our gravel road is a mess. Can you do anything to clean it up?

Unfortunately, when frost comes out of the roadbed each spring things tend to get messy and remain that way until all the moisture comes out of it. The best solution is warm, dry temperatures and wind. If road commissions attempt to fix roads with a gravel top coat, it could make matters worse. Adding sand or gravel to fill a mud hole usually has little to no positive effect and only adds to the muddy mixture. Your best bet is to just wait it out.

Now that the frost has thawed, why are you pulling at the sod and making a mess on the gravel roads?

Road commission crews pull shoulders on gravel roads every spring before grass begins to grow in order to reclaim gravel that has been pushed to the shoulder. It also allows them to remove the berm on the roadside that keeps water from flowing off the road.

When are you going to grade my gravel road full of holes?

In the summer, roads are graded before having chloride applied. Road commissions also strive to blade gravel roads after it rains and the road has softened. There is not much that can be done in the winter months when frost is in the ground.

Who decides where traffic control devices are placed?

Traffic signs, pavement markings and traffic signals are placed after Road Commissions conduct engineering studies. To be effective, traffic controls should meet five basic requirements.