Oakland County Roads, 50 Years Later: What Would Paul Say?
A guest commentary by Eric S. Wilson, Chairman of the Road Commission for Oakland County.
By Eric S. Wilson
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) – we were founded in 1913 – it is constructive and illustrative to look back and see how we are doing now compared to various points in the past.
For example, 50 years ago, in 1962, the Road Commission was run by County Highway Engineer Paul Van Roekel. By all accounts, Paul ran a tight ship, and the Road Commission then, as now, was known for its efficient operation.
In fact, when Van Roekel retired in 1981, the Road Commission named its Waterford Township facility the Paul Van Roekel Service Center in his honor.
Here’s an interesting fact about Paul’s early 1960s tenure. In 1962, he oversaw an agency with 425 employees – that’s more employees than the Road Commission has today.
Think about that for a moment. In 1962, Oakland County had:
- Just over half the population it has today, with about 700,000 people, compared to our 1.2 million today.
- About one-fifth as much traffic as we have today (2.5 billion annual vehicle miles of travel compared to today’s 12.3 billion)
- Less than a quarter the number of traffic signals we have today (350 compared to 1,600 today)
- One third as many traffic signs (50,000 compared to today’s 150,000)
Additionally, if you consider all the roads that have been widened or paved since 1962, we have thousands of miles of additional road lanes today. And yet, we have fewer employees to maintain the vastly expanded system in 2012 than we had in 1962.
Now, maybe we were a little heavy in 1962. I don’t know. I wasn’t there, and it’s hard to judge 50 years after the fact.
It’s interesting to note that the 1963 budget, approved in 1962, totaled almost $6.7 million. Compare that to the proposed 2013 budget we expect to approve in September, which totals just over $103 million. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that salaries and wages in 1962 accounted for nearly one-third of the budget, while today, they account for less than 25 percent.
I can assure you that today, we are lean and mean. We are doing a lot more work than ever before. As recently as five years ago, in 2007, we had 25 percent more employees. And those workers were busy then.
In the last five years, we have relentlessly worked to improve our efficiency, and our employees have stepped up. Today, they are doing more work. Employees are cross-trained so they can help out in other departments or divisions when needed.
And many of our employees have taken a sense of ownership of the agency – they truly want to do the best they can, with the resources available, for the customers we serve. For many, this is personal. It’s our friends, our neighbors and our families that we serve as well as the motoring public at large. We are committed to the safest roads and the highest level of service.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can do everything that everyone wants all the time. Even if we had twice as many employees and a budget twice as large, we simply wouldn’t be able to fulfill the request of every person who contacts the Road Commission.
But, I am confident that every Road Commission employee would agree with me, when I say we are here to do our level best to meet your needs and provide the best county road system we can, with the resources available to us.
So, what would Paul think of the propitious job we’re doing today? Well, I can’t speak for him, but I have to believe he would be amazed – and proud – of the amount of work we are doing today given the size of our staff and the demands on our road system.
But I also bet he would immediately recognize the drive and determination shown by our staff, as well as their commitment to our customers. Those were ideals he preached throughout his tenure, and ideals that remain ingrained in the RCOC mindset.