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.