No through traffic: After more than a year, and a stalled solution, Boy Scout Road remains closed
Fourteen months have passed since Boy Scout Road closed.
Fixing the road, which closed on May 9, 2019, when the southbound lane collapsed into the Cass River, would cost an estimated $1 million. So, five months ago, Indianfields Township and the Tuscola County Road Commission agreed to an interim solution: Install a traffic signal and turn the road, just north of the East Dayton Road intersection, into a one-lane thoroughfare.
Residents of the road, which runs from Orr to East Dayton roads, still are waiting for the single lane to open. And they are getting tired of waiting.
“There is a helluva a lot of frustration,” said Duane Hornbacher, a Boy Scout Road resident. “It is boiling over.”
That frustration boiled over into the June 25 Tuscola County Board of Commissioners meeting, where the commissioners approved a resolution calling for the reopening of the road. District 3 Commissioner Kim Vaughan said the residents and township Supervisor Ray Rendon “are tired of excuses. They want the road fixed.”
The Boy Scout Road project, Vaughan said, is being held up by a dispute with a neighboring landowner over who has the right-of-way.
“Everything we’ve come up with shows the county has legal access to an easement,” said Vaughan. But the landowner, he said, is fighting this.
The stumbling block, said road commission clerk Mike Tuckey, is the right-of-way and a place to put one of the utility poles needed to support the traffic signal.
“We feel we have right-of-way to complete the project,” he said. “But our attorney right now is researching to verify that. That is where it is sitting right now.”
The attorney is telling the road commission, he said, he can’t get the records he needs to verify the county’s claim over the right-of-way because the state archives are closed due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.
“He’s waiting in line to do that,” he said.
Controller/administrator Clayette Zechmeister said she sent road commissioner chairman Jack Laurie a deed description on the property. Boy Scout Road residents Dan Winchester and Dave Hiser said they found a survey showing the-right of-way and provided this information to a road commission member. They were told the road commission needed to verify if there were any changes to the right-of-way that weren’t recorded locally. Tuckey said he doesn’t know what is available at the state archive that can’t be found in local records. He said he just knows it is documentation other than what is available at the road commission, the Register of Deeds or other county records.
“I’m not sure I can exactly tell you,” he said. “I just know our attorney relies heavily on that. I guess I don’t know what he’s looking for in that.”
The county commissioners were given a resolution demanding the opening the road to a single lane of traffic, but the resolution the board passed only requested reopening the road.
“For us to demand that somebody the road commission has under contract do something is overstepping our bounds as county commissioners,” District 5 Commissioner Dan Grimshaw said. “We might recommend it, let alone demand the county road commission do something. Do we really want to take on oversight of telling them what to do?
“Why would we want to make a demand? Why wouldn’t we want to make a request?”
The commissioners also altered the language to also make it clear the county wasn’t taking on any additional liability through its support of the effort.
“My concern is,” said District 1 Commissioner Tom Young, “are we opening up the county to liability if we go ahead and tell the road commission to open up that road and there is an accident and someone gets hurt? That is my only concern.”
“As far as liability,” Vaughan said, “I don’t see any more liability” under the reopening plan.
The resolution also calls for the road commission manager to report monthly to the board of commissioners about progress on getting the road open and for the road commission to continue to work with township board to permanently resolve the issue with the road.
“I suspect we’ll hear something back in two weeks,” Grimshaw said. “This ought to prompt a response.”
Tuckey said the steps needed to reopen one lane of the road – the placement of the pole, the electrification of the lights and the placement of the barriers to create a single lane – will be finished quickly, once the road commission has the legal information from its lawyer.
The long-term fate of the road, he said, falls to Indianfields Township.
“Whether that road remains where it is, or what, I don’t think anybody knows at this point,” he said.
“I can say that the road commission board shares their (the board of commissioners’) concern and appreciates the frustration of the residents of that area. We want to get that project completed more than anybody.”
Hornbacher said some residents might seek their own legal remedy. He said several of the residents are considering filing a lawsuit against the county over the road.
“If this doesn’t get solved, that will be one of the steps we will be taking,” he said.
“There are just some angry people out here.”
One source of the frustration is the detour routes residents must take to get to Caro. One takes them out to Deckerville Road, where they must negotiate a five-way intersection with M-81 and Remington Road. The other takes them down unpaved Albin Road.
“Right now it is bumpy, it is washboard, it is passable, but people are still mad,” Hornbacher said. “There are times in the spring and the fall where even in a four-wheel-drive pickup you have to hang on to your wheel and keep trudging through it. It gets that bad. And that’s the only road most people have to get out of here.
“It gets that bad. And that is what they have left us.”
Those two detours also add time and distance.
“If anybody has to go 10 minutes out of their way every single time they go up town, or go to work, once, twice, three times a day, after 14 months, you get pretty upset,” he said. “That’s why we live in Caro. That is why we have the homes we have. That is why we bought where we bought, where we could be out in the country and still be close to town.”
The long 14-month wait, which has no signs of ending, hasn’t helped matters.
“This is such a fiasco,” he said, “and there is no desire to find a solution for the residents.”
Mark Haney is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.