Behind the scenes: How Midland County Road Commission paves the way for safer roads

Road work ahead? I sure hope so. 

The Midland County Road Commission ensures nearly 1000 miles of roads and over 90 bridges are drivable year-round. Their 42 employees plow, salt, mow, control dust on gravel roads, and remove obstructions such as trees or brush — and that’s just to keep the roads clear of hazards. They also patch potholes, maintain culverts, keep an eye on signage, and more. 

“There’s always plenty of things for us to do,” says Jonathan Myers, managing director and engineer of the Midland County Road Commission. Myers has been in his role for just over three years, bringing nearly 25 years of engineering experience.
Jonathan Myers is the managing director and engineer of the Midland County Road Commission.
This year, the road commission is using a safety grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to improve stop signs on major routes. Reflectivity, proper sizing, and advanced notice warnings are being upgraded for heightened visibility.

“Safety is our number one priority,” says Myers. “The key is making sure the roads are safe for the public.”

Besides the signage project, the road commission is constantly reviewing and maintaining roads and bridges to keep them safe. With so much mileage to cover, only 10-15% of the roads can be worked on every year. The road commission also works with townships to plan work and allocate how money is spent.

“There is a lot of planning trying to maintain everything that we have,” says Myers. “We review them all every single year, and we're constantly changing our priorities and changing our plans. For the most part though, we try to set in stone the next four to five years and beyond.”

Roads are rated as poor, fair, or good based on the quantity and nature of defects. So, how does Midland County compare to the state’s county roads?

Data reflects 2021 reports under the jurisdiction of county road commissions. Pulled from Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council at
“Our main goal is trying to increase our percentage of good roads versus our percentage of poor roads,” says Myers. “That seems pretty basic, but in reality, it's more difficult than it seems.” He says the challenge is in keeping fair roads from slipping into poor condition, all while bringing poor roads into the good category.

While the roads are reviewed annually, anyone is welcome to submit a service request at any time. A common misconception people have, according to Myers, is understanding what is under whose jurisdiction.
Want to report a road issue? Submit a service request on the county website or do it on the MidlandRoads app.

In an average year, 5000-6000 tons of salt is used. About 40% of that goes on county roads, and the other 60% is used on state (MDOT) routes.
Every road outside the City of Midland, the City of Coleman, the Village of Sanford, and state routes (e.g., I-75, US-10) is within the Midland County Road Commission’s jurisdiction. It may also be unclear whether an issue is road-related or a property issue, for example, with drains. If a request is mistakenly submitted that is outside their jurisdiction, the county road commission will redirect you to the proper authority.
Ever wonder how snow plows are operated? This is the control panel in one.
“We're always willing to help people,” says Myers. “When someone calls and they have a concern over something, and if it's not technically our responsibility, we will always guide them in the correct direction.”

For county road closures or updates, check the Midland County Road Commission’s website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

How is the Midland County Road Commission funded?

Anyone who’s driven enough has seen an MDOT road project sign with a six or seven-figure dollar amount pasted on it. It’s no secret — roads are expensive.

The price of road maintenance is a balance of labor and materials costs. “We’re expecting a 20% increase in asphalt prices this year,” says Myers. “The best thing we can do is competitively bid all these items that are related to the road work and award the work to the lowest price.”

The Midland County Road Commission is largely funded through the Michigan Transportation Fund. This money comes from the state through vehicle registration fees, gas tax, and even some redirected income tax. The federal government funds specific projects or grants. 

To keep their trucks in tip-top shape, the road commission employs a team of mechanics.
Midland County also has the support of a road millage. Working with the City of Midland who also benefits from the millage, a large portion of that money goes directly to road maintenance and construction projects.

Maintaining the county’s roads may not seem like a joyride, but Myers has always enjoyed going to work.

“I love every aspect of my chosen profession,” he says. “It's fun. You get to experience a lot of cool things that most people don't get to be involved with. You get to build stuff and see the result of what you've been working on.”

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Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala is a freelance writer with a focus on health and science. As a lifelong resident of the Tri-Cities, she loves sharing how our communities are overcoming challenges. Crystal is also a serial hobbyist — her interests range from hiking or drawing to figuring out how to do a handstand. Her work can be seen in Wide Open Eats, The Xylom, Woman & Home, and The Detroit Free Press. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.