A package of bills signed into law Jan. 4 by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder allows townships and villages in counties with a population greater than 1 million to request the county road commission lower the speed limit on gravel roads that are currently unposted 55 miles per hour to posted 45 miles per hour.
Since the state Legislature changed the way gravel road speed limits are set in 2006, all gravel road speed limits were determined based on the number of entry points (side streets, driveways, alleys, etc.) within a half mile stretch of road. According to the law, any road segment with less than 30 entry points per half mile was required to be unposted 55 miles per hour.
Because most gravel roads have less than 30 entry points per half mile, most were changed to unposted 55 miles per hour after 2006. The new law allows township supervisors or village managers to request the road commission change those segments to a posted 45 miles per hour speed limit.
“In accordance with the new law, if a township supervisor or village manager asks us to lower the speed limit on an unposted gravel road to 45, we will review the situation and discuss it with the supervisor or manager. If, after the discussion, both parties still believe the change is appropriate, the process will move forward, so long as the township or village is willing to pay for the cost of installing the new speed limit signs,” explained Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) Managing Director Dennis Kolar.
Kolar noted the cost to make the signs and send crews to install sign posts and signs is between $1,000 and $1,400 per mile. He added, though, that in some cases, posting a lower speed limit may not be what is best or safest for a particular road.
The new law also allows communities to request speed limits lower than 45 miles per hour on gravel roads, but requires that the Michigan State Police conduct speed studies in those cases, and allows lower speeds only when justified by the studies. The law further stipulates that those studies must be conducted between three and 14 days after the road is graded and chloride applied (chloride is used to control dust on gravel roads).
The law requires that when a speed study is done, the new speed limit must be set to the nearest multiple of 5 miles per hour to the speed at which 85 percent of vehicles are traveling (the “85th percentile”). Kolar noted that, because the Michigan State Police have limited staff available to conduct speed studies, it may take a “significant period of time” for a speed study to be completed.
Kolar added that, depending on the number of requests for 45 miles per hour gravel road speed limits RCOC receives, it could take the Road Commission quite a while to post all the signs as well. “Installation of critical safety signs and repairs of existing signs are given priority by our sign crews,” the managing director explained.
Kolar has sent a letter to all township supervisors and village managers in the county explaining the new law and the process for requesting a 45 miles per hour speed limit on a gravel road.