Hillsdale County Man Unhappy with Guard Rails

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Jim Brown of Reading Township came home from work Monday to find something unusual and previously unseen in his front yard: a guard rail, one Brown described as "more deserving of being placed on an Interstate."

"Why now?" Brown said. "I lived here 24 years, I have yet to see a car go off the road."

The guard rail in front of Brown's house is one of five placed along a seven-mile stretch of Long Lake Road. The rails are funded by a federal grant applied for by the Hillsdale County Road Commission.

"I've been concerned for a long time about these deep ravines on Long Lake Road in Reading Township," said Stanley Clingerman, manager of the Hillsdale County Road Commission. "Our shoulders were fairly narrow on most of the sites, the embankments were really steep.

"In the five years that we studied there were 18 crashes, including one fatal crash on this segment of road. And based on the accident history and the MDOT safety initiative recommendation that there were several steep, deep areas that they approved the grant."

Clingerman says guard rails were installed in places that didn't fit MDOT's safety standards. Those are areas that are eight feet deep where there is a steeper than a 33 percent grade -- or one foot down for every three feet over. It's something that's particularly found in the area around Long Lake Road, where culverts are common.

"A person could go off the road in some of these ravines and if they didn't see the tracks and if they were hidden in the brush at the bottom of the ravines, people wouldn't even know there was a car down there," said Clingerman. "They're that deep."

In all, the federal grant totaled more than $125,000. The rail in front of Brown's house cost $7,000 -- an amount that Brown says doesn't make sense to him when the state's roads themselves are in such bad shape.

"Our state's in a world of hurt. Detroit's bankrupt, Albion schools are closing," he said. "Why this, why now?"

Brown also wondered why the stretch of road on his side of the street had a rail installed when other more treacherous areas, or even the area across the street had not.

Clingerman says it's a question of numbers. Those that fit the slope and the depth requirements may receive rails, those that don't don't. And state requirements are also the reason why the rail stretches from the culvert to Brown's driveway, which is at least 25 yards away.

"Unfortunately you may have a hazard that's let's say 100 foot long but you've got to add another 150 or more feet of guard rail ahead of that per the standard to develop the strength and the crash-worthiness of that rail," said Clingerman. "Most people comment, 'Why is it so long?' but it's because of the standards, this runout length and the end sections that are required."

Brown calls the extra rail length an eyesore, one that he thinks will hurt the value of his property.

"I kept this mowed, I kept this nice," he said. "Me and my wife worked 24 years to get this where it is and now I have this to deal with. I can't hide it behind a tree. I sit in my front living room, now I get to see this everyday. Now when the winter comes and the leaves fall off, what do I get to see?"

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