Rating the worst roads in West Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Ivra Walker maneuvered his battery-powered wheelchair around potholes on Kalamazoo Avenue SE — a stretch of road ranked among the worst in West Michigan.

He can’t use the sidewalks because they’re clogged with snow.

“You have to go around them. You have to go in the streets,” said Walker, 69, as he headed to the Walgreen’s on Kalamazoo south of Hall Street. “It’s a little dangerous out there, too. Cars coming. They ain’t got nowhere to get over. They hit potholes, too.”

It’s the deep potholes and wide cracks that earned Kalamazoo Avenue its road quality ranking of 1.

Grand Valley Metro Council (GVMC) uses a half-million-dollar van equipped with lasers, computers and high-definition cameras to rate more than 1,100 miles of main roads in the Grand Rapids area.

The latest ratings, released in February, show the stretch of Kalamazoo between Hall and Burton streets was rated as a “1” on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst.

“Failed,” is how it’s described in GVMC’s report. “Complete loss of surface integrity.”

“You really have to slow down on, avoid potholes. That would be Kalamazoo and a few others that are reserved for the ‘1s’ that really potentially could damage your vehicle at any time,” said Jim Snell, senior transportation planner for GVMC.

Kalamazoo Avenue is one of only two roads in the area rated as low as 1. The other is a stretch of Jefferson Avenue SE north of Franklin Street.

“These streets are deteriorating faster and there’s really not much short of reconstruction they can do on a lot of these streets,” Snell said.

Snell said he expects roads will rate even lower — likely the worst since GVMC started measuring — in this year’s survey, which starts later this spring.

Road conditions in West Michigan improved slightly in 2012 compared to 2011, with an average rating of 5.44 (fair), but they’re still lower than they were five years ago, Snell said. He said a mild winter last year was easier on the roads and left road crews with more money to spend.

Roads got slightly better in most suburbs, including Wyoming, Kentwood, Walker and Grandville, and areas served by the Kent and Ottawa county road commissions. Kentwood’s streets were rated the best, with an average rating of more than 6, which is considered “good.”

But roads continued to get worse in urban areas — Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids.

In Grand Rapids, the average rating fell below 5, with more than a quarter of the roads in poor shape, the report shows.

Snell blames that, in part, on road beds built years ago that weren’t meant for heavy trucks.

“It was horse-and-buggy,” Snell said. “They didn’t need to build it that way.”

“They’re doing a really good job in Grand Rapids to kind of stem that tide with what they’re doing, but they’re fighting a losing battle based on what’s underneath the surface,” he continued.

Snell said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more 1 and 2 ratings on this year’s survey.

“This winter was horrible and as that continues down the curve — the deterioration curve of the street — there’s really no coming back once it reaches a certain point,” he said. “You have to reconstruct it. There’s no Band-Aids that will fix it.”

The roads, he said, need more money — double the amount spent right now to keep them up and triple the amount to improve them.

“Unless there’s more resources put into the system, the system will continue to deteriorate,” Snell said. “And as it deteriorates, the fix gets more and more expensive.”

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