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Published: Wednesday, 5/14/2008

Rauch, 'worst paved road,' in line for work

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Potholes pepper a three-mile stretch of Rauch Road. Officials are trying to come up with money to make repairs. Potholes pepper a three-mile stretch of Rauch Road. Officials are trying to come up with money to make repairs.
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TEMPERANCE - A pothole-plagued three-mile section of Rauch Road, a Monroe County link between U.S. 23 and South Dixie Highway, could be resurfaced this year if officials can nail down how to pay for it.

Representatives from Ida and Bedford townships and the county road commission have been meeting to find a way to repair Rauch between Lewis Avenue and Secor Road.

Tagged 10 years ago as "the worst paved road in Monroe County" by Blade readers, Rauch has seen few improvements since then. The road has deteriorated into a relentless series of cold patches, buckling asphalt, and enormous holes.

Rauch serves as the boundary between the county's southernmost tier of townships, Whiteford, Bedford, and Erie, and neighboring townships to the north.

Several years ago, a section between Secor and U.S. 23 involving Whiteford and Summerfield townships was resurfaced, thanks to passage of road levies in those two townships.

The other four townships and the county road commission rely on fuel taxes to pay for improvements - and those collections have stalled.

Michigan's fuel tax, designated for road projects, has remained at 19 cents per gallon since 1997.

More fuel-efficient vehicles and reduced driving in the face of soaring fuel prices are cutting into gasoline sales. The result is a drop in the amount of fuel tax being collected.

According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute, Michigan's 19-cent tax has the purchasing power of 11 cents per gallon.

That's little comfort for the four townships along Rauch

Road.

Dale Zorn, Monroe County commissioner for District 2, said township trustees and road commissioners have been holding work sessions to reach consensus on what should be done with a separate seven-mile section, and more importantly, how it will be paid for.

"As we continue to look at options, we also are looking to find another alternative either in the construction [portion] or in financing it," he said.

Because Rauch is deemed a local boundary road, the townships are responsible for finding the money.

Ida Township says it has the money, but Bedford Township is a different story.

Walter Wilburn, Bedford Township supervisor, said the township has been trying "to put some figures together" to get moving on the road.

"It's about the money," he said of the lack of movement in Bedford Township. "It's not a matter of the willingness."

Monroe County Commissioner R. LaMar Frederick agreed, saying Bedford holds the key that will start the project.

"No question," said Mr. Frederick, a former Bedford Township supervisor.

"It is how Bedford is going to pay for the program, in as much as Bedford has committed the money this year for certain road projects."

"Everyone is looking at helping Bedford do what they would like to do," Mr. Frederick said.

Still, there's optimism the money will be found, and work can begin by fall. The project is estimated to cost $650,000.

"It's doable," said Mr. Zorn, vice chairman of the county commissioners.

Rauch Road, built around the time of the Great Depression as one of the few continuous east-west roads in the county, poses a problem in how it was built.

Township officials say if Rauch Road were in better condition, it could take the pressure off parallel roads.

At South Dixie, Rauch becomes Cousino Road until it meets up with I-75 north of Luna Pier.

Rauch has been eroded by its crumbling berm, making it difficult for two school buses to pass without bumping mirrors.

Rebuilding Rauch to the current standard width was deemed too expensive.

Engineers aren't exactly sure how much reinforcement rod lies under the concrete, but they are sure it would be extremely difficult to break up, several officials said.

Construction techniques differ between that time and how a road is built now.

At 16 feet wide, the road falls significantly short of today's standard 22-foot width, with four-foot shoulders.

"[Rauch Road] was constructed with concrete 70 or 80 years ago," said Mr. Zorn, whose district covers part of Ida Township. "They don't know exactly what is in the road. No one as any idea about the re-rod.

"We know we can't go below the road bed, and we don't want to lose the total base," Mr. Zorn said.

Nancy Tienvieri, spokesman for the county road commission, said the $650,000 price tag would involve grinding the surface, adding stone, and 2 1/2 inches of an asphalt cap. It would not involve rebuilding or widening.

Widening was ruled out because ditches would have to be moved and the road re-engineered, for a cost of about $1 million a mile.

In 2002, the Monroe County Road Commission took its first steps toward fixing Rauch when it patched portions of Rauch and took on a large section of roadway that is the financial responsibility of townships.

Since then, however, the road commission has experienced its own financial constraints and no longer is in a position to pitch in, Mrs. Tienvieri said.

"It's reasonably clear that the county cannot commit money to road projects," Mr. Frederick said.

Around six years ago when repairs were made, the four townships that share that road east of Secor - Ida, Erie, LaSalle, and Bedford - pledged $50,000 toward its repair.

Larry Rutledge, LaSalle Township supervisor, said a plan was advanced to get all townships on board, but dividing the financial responsibility was initially a stumbling block.

"We are talking about a 10-year commitment," Mr. Rutledge said. "It will take up an awful lot of resources."

Mr. Rutledge said LaSalle Township hopes to take up its portion of the project this summer once "a more affordable plan" is found.

Contact: Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078



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