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Death Renews Concerns About Gravel Road Conditions in Hartland

Resident says he tells friends not to drive on Cullen and Crouse while officials say limited dollars currently go toward higher-priority projects.

When Bob Ellis heard about the death of a 40-year-old Hartland woman who last week, it didn't surprise him because he thinks the gravel road along with neighboring sections of Cullen Road are unsafe anytime of year and in need of repair.

“For some reason, people seem to think that that road is a paved road and they can drive on it like they drive on a paved road and as a result of that the speeds are consistently high,” said Ellis, a Hartland resident who lives off M-59 and could use the roads to visit family but now purposely avoids them and warns others to do the same.

“If people can drive on it at 20 miles an hour, it’d be okay. That’s about all that road can support, but they don’t do it. … The thing is basically a farm road and it’s supporting what amounts to a suburban traffic load and it's just not working."

But the head of governmental body that maintains the road says while some ditching and tree removal could be done in the area, Crouse is not high on the priority list because its 400-a-vehicle per day usage is considered moderate for Livingston County gravel roads.

Some gravel roads in the county attract 1,000-a-vehicle per day and take funding priority for repair and maintenance, says Michael Craine, managing director of the Livingston County Road Commission.

Adding to the danger in winter is gravel roads also are the lowest priority in terms of snow removal, sometimes taking three days to clear.

"In winter, obviously, you have to drive with a considerable amount of care for the situation," Craine said. "I don’t think Crouse Road presents any particular challenge from another gravel road."

Police have said they believe the woman, employee Melanie Beneson, drove too fast Jan. 3 for icy conditions, which led her to lose control and hit a tree. There's no posted speed limit in the area, which under state law means no faster than 55 miles per hour or than conditions allow.

Within Hartland Township, though, those areas of Crouse and Cullen roads made a township 2009 "high priority" list as No. 7 and No. 8 worst roads identifying 10.4 miles in need of work, according to Township Manager James Wickman.

Bergin and Hacker roads each tied for first in the 2009 study. In response to the study the Township Board proposed a ballot measure in 2010 that would have paved Bergin and added more limestone to sections of Clyde and Cook roads. But voters rejected the five-year, 1-mill tax.

Board members in the past year have discussed exploring more road options as part of its strategic planning process and Wickman said if residents raise concerns following Beneson's death, the board is ready to "respond accordingly."

But finding funding for the potential improvements, however, is difficult. County road dollars, which are based on a system officials say sends more dollars to Lansing than it receives, are stretched thin, Wickman said. As a result, in the upcoming year, there will be only one county-funded project in Hartland Township and that's to improve the intersection of Dunham and Fenton roads.

Ellis said he thinks the safety of the Cullen and Crouse area would be safer if:

  • There was more police enforcement.
  • Potholes and washboards were fixed.
  • A stop light was installed at Cullen and M-59 to encourage drivers to take M-59 instead.

In the meantime, in addition to drivers, Ellis says runners and walkers should be careful in the area.

“They (runners) are taking their life in their hands because if a car comes around the corner and they’re running on the side of the road and the car tries to brake, that’s another problem people need to be warned about,” Ellis said. “Nobody should be running on that road until it’s repaired.”

Editor's note: The story was updated Wednesday to correct where a county road project is slated for this year.

Jordan Genso January 10, 2012 at 11:03 PM
I personally think the County Board of Commissioners can do more to assist the Road Commission in improving our roads. It seems like the county's approach is to do as little as possible for the roads, forcing the townships to take it upon themselves to put bond proposals on the ballot, in order for the county to continue being able to brag about having some of the lowest county taxes in the state. Now this may result in some people thinking I'm a socialist, but I don't view infrastructure projects like road improvements and maintenance as being wasteful spending. So if the county needs to bring our taxes slightly more in-line with all the other counties in the state, in order for us to enjoy better roads, count me in. And I know that during the 2010 election cycle, the County Commission claimed they have no control over the roads, as it is all the Road Commission's responsibility, but I think the fact that the county has agreed to contribute to the Latson Rd / I-96 interchange proves that such an excuse is false. And since they are contributing to that project from the general funds account, they could do so for other projects in the county to avoid "send[ing] more dollars to Lansing than it receives."
Stefanie Furge January 11, 2012 at 03:07 AM
The Michigan dirt roads are an embarrassment. There are times the roads are in such poor condition I feel as if I'm driving in a Third World country.
Janet January 11, 2012 at 03:47 AM
I do understand the issues with gravel roads, as I've lived on them all my life. The accident that killed Melanie Beneson was very tragic, but I can't single out the area of Cullen and Crouse as particularly treacherous. I've been traveling those back roads for 35 years, and would tend to concur with the Road Commission that it's a pretty low traffic area and it would be hard to justify making those roads a high priority on the budget. Much of the time when I drive the miles between my home and Hartland on those roads, I don't even see another car. Speeding down those roads would definitely be dangerous, as they are narrower than main roads, there are a number of curves, and the gravel surface is, of course, less stable than pavement. Maybe I've simply been lucky, but I can't recall having had the misfortune to encounter any reckless or excessively speeding vehicles during my travels there. I also don't believe that a traffic light is needed at Cullen and M-59. Instead, if the budget would prioritize the last remaining few miles of the M-59 improvement project (between Hartland and Michigan Avenue) which was scheduled to be completed years ago, it would make things safer not only for Cullen but for Hacker, Musson, Eager, and all the small streets in between where drivers often feel they're taking their lives in their hands just to turn east on M-59. With medians and additional lanes installed, as promised long ago, that issue would be eliminated.
bob black January 11, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I have been driving Hartland's gravel roads for 25 years and they are horrible after a rain or when snow melts. This is what happens to a gravel road as we all know as we drive them. That being said, accidents do not just happen. What is you're big hurry. That is what causes accidents. Cars tailgate and pass me at least 90% of the time I am driving down one of Hartland's gravel roads. Common sense tells you that just because the legal speed limit is 55 mph, that doesn't mean it is safe to go 55 mph. Just one more thing, most of us moved out to hartland for a somewhat slower and safer lifestyle to raise our kids in a better atmosphere than the ratrace of the cities. So slow down, you may enjoy life more when you are not in a hurry all the time. That action does not cost you or the county any money and at the end of the day you can come home to you're family.....in a good mood.
rose clark January 11, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I have also traveled the back roads of Hartland for several years. The only problem that I have encountered are drivers driving too fast. There have been several times that I have been traveling carefully on snow covered dirt or graveled roads and have been passed up by speeding drivers. The simple solution and the cheapest would be posted speed limit signs. I would have no problem with seeing signs 25 to 35mph posted. Periodic police enforcement would help also. Something else that has bothered me, living near Hartland High School, are seeing the cross-country runners running along Dunham Rd. I fear for them. Especially because inexperienced teens travel there. I would love to see a jogging or bike path there. I would not mind my tax money going for there protection. Also, I live near the intersection of Bullard and Dunham, and I don't see any problem with this intersection. I guess it would help to make people slow down but I have never seen an accident there.
yvonne January 11, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The County-funded project is for the intersection at Fenton Rd. and Dunham Rd., not Bullard Rd. They are going to cut down the hill on Fenton Rd. so that you can safly exit Dunham Rd. onto Fenton Rd. and you will be able to see cars coming from the north. There have been many accidents and deaths at this intersection.
rose clark January 11, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Thanks for that correction Yvonne. That makes sense to me.
Dr Cindy January 11, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I really worry about the joggers and cross country team running along Cook and Runyon Lake road. People drive way to fast, the potholes are big enough to swallow a small care at times, and there is absolutely no shoulder with the trees and the stupid mound of earth dumped on them causing no visibility at the corner. People are sliding into the guardrail all the time. Someone's going to get hurt. The worst part is on my property and if I owned a tractor I would be inclined to move the obscene pile of dirt myself!
Scott A. Sammons January 11, 2012 at 04:57 PM
I want to know how much it cost to pave a dirt road, by the foot, mile, yard, whatever... I recently moved here from Ohio, and am amazed at how many dirt roads are here in Michigan, and in areas that appear to be "suburbanized" or highly populated. You have to drive pretty far into the middle of nowhere to find a dirt road in Ohio. So, what gives? Is it the taxes? I can tell you that my property taxes are HALF here compared to what they were in Ohio.
Christofer Machniak January 11, 2012 at 05:19 PM
HI yvonne, Thanks for catching that. We had previously reported that it was at Fenton and Dunham and mistakenly said Bullard in this article (my bad). We've now updated the story. - Chris
Stefanie Furge January 12, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Scott, I'm from "small-town" Indiana (right near the Illinois border so I'm familiar with corn country there, too) and I've lived in Ohio. That is why I said the Michigan roads are an embarrassment! If you've lived in Michigan your entire life, you should know the roads here are NOT representative of the entire Midwest!

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