Protecting Our Environment

Our society is becoming increasingly sensitive about our environment and rightfully so. We are concerned about what corporations and even public agencies are doing that might damage the environment and make this a less pleasant place to live, especially for our children. Road agencies are subject to this scrutiny, and yes, they can do things that could affect the environment. Fortunately, most have become aware of the need to protect the environment. As a result of the National Environmental Protection Act of 1970 and the Michigan Protection Act shortly thereafter, road agencies must carefully document all potential damage resulting from major, federally funded projects and review alternatives to mitigate damages. Environmental staff have been hired to review not only construction projects, but also maintenance activities to seek ways to mitigate damage.

Environmental Initiatives

The Road Commission, for example, has a staff of environmentalists working on the problem. Construction projects in wooded areas are reviewed, including with field visits, to determine if significant trees could be saved by adjusting the road alignment or by any other means. Unfortunately, the Road Commission sometimes puts a great deal of effort into saving trees along a road during an improvement of that road, only to then watch a developer go in and clear the adjacent property of all trees. Lakes and streams are now being protected from runoff from construction sites via the use of special drainage provisions, straw and in some cases, special fabrics. New drainage catch basins are now being installed that are designed to trap sediment and floating debris such as oil before it reaches our lakes and streams.

While road agencies such as the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) do use some herbicides, they are now used only at selected locations such as intersections and around signs to keep brush down and maintain sight distances for motorists. Massive spraying of ditches, etc., is no longer done. Other steps have also been taken. For example, all Road Commission staff handling chemicals are trained and certified to handle them properly. These materials tend to be contact herbicides, killing only what they touch, as opposed to those that are designed to be absorbed in the soil and kill roots. The latter type is more susceptible to being washed away and into our streams and lakes. For dust control on gravel roads in the townships, the Road Commission uses brine from its own well. Brine tends to bind with the soil and does not represent a runoff problem. It does, though, contribute to corrosion of vehicles.

The salt used for winter snow maintenance is drawing additional attention. Not only is it corrosive to vehicles, but it does run off into lakes and streams. Sand or salt and sand combinations are used in some situations, but are not as effective overall in keeping traffic moving safely as is salt alone. Also, sand tends to fill up the storm sewers and adds to the lake and stream sediment problem. Alternatives to salt (sodium chloride) are constantly being sought, but none that is as effective has yet been found.

Environmental Concerns Brochure