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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.

Scot Beaton August 26, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Mr. Wilson, Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the Patch. One would hope "lean and mean" would be a goal for any tax funded government agency. I would refrain from the word mean -- not a good choice of words if you are in the public service business. 
 As a former member of the RH City Council or as a RH resident the (RCOC) has always returned my phone calls; or in this new century my emails -- thank you for the outstanding customer service you group has shown me. We have been at odds now for over 20 years when I comes to the design of the roads (RCOC) has proposed for RH. On City Council our response to the Livernois Rd. 5 lane highway plans with the gabion basket retaining walls between Avon to Walton Boulevard -- was a resounding NO -- its all in the minutes -- 4 progressive thinking City Council members killed that wrong idea! Quote from us, "we don't get a boulevard, you don't receive our share of the funding from the city." note: why would the (RCOC) think a 50 mph design speed highway in front of a HS is a good idea? Mr. Wilson, unfortunately we don't today have a Mayor or the vote on City Council that has the foresight to say -- NO -- to your 50 mph design speed 3 lane highway plans for Tienken Rd. Why... I don't know -- Mr. Wilson, please explain to fellow Patch readers why (RCOC) design plans are hopelessly stuck in the 20th century. There building "complete streets" all over the USA why won't you build them in Oakland County.
Scot Beaton August 26, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Mr. Wilson, Please explain to fellow Patch readers that a 3 lane highway is actually more dangerous to drive on than 5 lane highway -- or explain a divided highway is the safest to drive on -- or a 2 lane can actually be safer than a 3 lane, cars will drive towards each other at slower speeds on a 2 lane road. Mr. Wilson, please explain to fellow Patch readers why we are building a roundabout at the corner of Livernois Rd. and Tienken Rd. -- this plan was never in the original 5 lane plan -- and why you refuse to put up safety lights at the pedestrian crosswalks at this new massive interchange. Are you aware the (RCOC) wants to tear down a senior citizens home at that corner. Mr. Wilson, please explain to fellow Patch readers why you don't even have a landscape plan for Tienken Rd. besides grass seed. Or explain why you haven't replaced all the mountain ash trees on Walton Boulevard that died. Your road, your trees, in your right of way -- please fix this! note: The contemporary trend now is to use a variety of tree species. Mr. Wilson, please explain to fellow Patch readers why for 13.5 million dollars you can't build a "complete street" like the one I took the time to illustrate at http://rochester.patch.com/blog_posts/lets-propose-a-new-tienken-parkway Mr. Wilson, -- thank you for your post.

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