• Mar 10, 2008


The process of constructing roadways in a Michigan is a long and arduous one that takes many millions of dollars, countless workers standing around and at least five seasons to finish. Roadways here on the home turf of the American auto industry are a unique breed. Even though Windsor, Ontario is just across the river from Detroit and has exactly the same climatic conditions, its roads are completely different from those in Michigan. That becomes immediately apparent as your roll off the Ambassador Bridge. We here at Autoblog strive to keep you, our loyal readers, informed about all things even vaguely related to cars. Therefore, we present our step-by-step guide to the creation of a Michigan road.

The process typically starts in the spring as soon as the salt has been rinsed away. Before the first crocuses pop out of the dirt, the crews start setting out signs and orange barrels along the edges of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares. There they typically sit for anywhere from one to four weeks before the crews return to start closing off lanes of traffic. After another interval of random length, the heavy equipment begins to arrive and the process of tearing apart the existing pavement begins. Just to make sure that no one accidentally misses out on the fun, the same scenario is usually repeated along several parallel paths that might serve as alternate routes between any two major points that people commute.

Learn about the rest of the process after the jump.


Creative commons - Flickr - Ricarr

Throughout the spring and summer and often well into the fall, construction crews will shut down lanes of traffic often for several miles while they tear up old pavement, crush it and lay down new pavement. Interstates passing through Michigan are typically paved with concrete rather than asphalt, which is then finished in a special texture that seems calculated to excite certain harmonic frequencies in car tires at any speed over 30 mph. This is done to ensure that drivers never forget they are driving on Michigan roads.

After labor day rolls around and the kids head back to school, the completion of summer road trips means that the need to restrict traffic is lessened. As the leaves start to change colors, the crews wrap up the first phase of their construction projects. At this point, most states are finished, but Michigan is just getting started. With a fresh layer of pavement in place, the real work now begins. Fortunately, Michigan is one of only a few states that still allows 80 ton trucks on its major roadways, which helps accomplish the second stage.

On the concrete highways, the extra weight aids the development of cracks, which are necessary for subsequent stages of the process. In the cities where the roads are paved with asphalt, the big trucks generate waves in the pavement as they come to a stop at intersections. These waves alert inattentive drivers that they are approaching an intersection without the need to look up from their McGriddle or makeup bag.

As the primary construction crews pack up and the winter snow and ice arrives, the inevitable cracks and gaps in the pavement do their part. Winters can get cold in Michigan, but they tend not stay that way for long. It's not at all unusual to have temperatures cycling between 10F and 40F several times within the same week. As the melted snow seeps into those cracks, re-freezes and expands, it can rupture even the toughest concrete and asphalt is no match. This allows large chunks of road to be easily removed before being later replaced with patches.

Late February and early March is the prime season for this phase of the process, although it can occur at anytime from Halloween to late April. Once the water has created the necessary cavities (perhaps we should start lacing our snow with fluoride?) the cold patch crews can go to work. In Michigan, this consists typically of three to four trucks, one of which is filled with cold asphalt patching material. These convoys trundle along the roadways, often blocking two lanes, as one or two out of the dozen-strong crew shovels the patching material into the craters. To be on the safe side, the patch material is piled several inches above the surrounding pavement.

Tamping down the patch is the responsibility of cars that drive by for the next hour or so. While this does save the repair crews from having to perform this extra step, it has the unfortunate side effect of spraying passing cars with asphalt, but that's a small price to pay to save the aching back of a state employee. One of the things that makes Michigan roadways truly unique in America is that the asphalt cold patch is used on both asphalt roads and concrete pavement. Since the patching material seems to adhere only sporadically to concrete, regular re-application is necessary.

At this point, the Michigan road is more or less complete, but like a good wine it does take some aging. Continued pounding by the big trucks and several more cycles of winter and patching yields the finished product. Meanwhile, the main construction crews start anew each spring with more sections of road.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 69 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      If you wonder what the truckers think:

      http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/10326

      I live in Ohio, and the times I've driven into Michigan the difference in the roads is night and day. I don't think Ohio has the greatest roads, but Michigan (especially I-75) is terrible!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Same here in CA. Roads are paved in the sense that they have some covering other than dirt. I should trade in my G35 for a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon just to make my commute to work tolerable. You should also mention RR crossings and the damage they do to cars.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Oh, I know. I grew up in Wisconsin and I know they are bad back there. I was simply saying that they are getting worse all over the nation. I was surprised how nice they were in Maryland though when I was back there last summer.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @dave

        I used to live in MD and went to school in Maine and am now in California. Roads in California are heaven compared to most of the country. LA may be a bit worse and there are certain parts of the Bay Area where there are bad roads (SF and 101, I'm looking at you...), but it's nothing compared to the upper-midwest or most of the East Coast....

        In fact, I would say that roads in California rival roads in Europe for quality, although whether it will stay that way with the budget issues is open to debate.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Dave.. have u been to Detroit? I live in San Francisco area and the roads in Detroit feels like a rollercoaster ride...
        • 6 Years Ago
        Dave, I spent Christmas driving the roads around LA and thought I was in heaven.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Bravo! I got a good chuckle out of this on a Monday morning.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The best example of forward thinking road repairs in MI was the I-275 fiasco from about 8 years ago, where they covered the original concrete stretch of I-275 between I-696 and I-96 with asphalt.

      They did it entirely at night, which was nice from a commuter standpoint, and right after it was finished it was beautiful. But within 6 months the asphalt started cracking due to those heavy trucks, and within a year huge chunks were being thrown off, usually into your windshield. It was FAR worse than the admittedly horrible concrete had been beforehand.

      They eventually rebuilt that surface in concrete, but I shudder to think how much money they wasted on that ill-conceived endeavor.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I knew some Ohio State chuckle head would make some dumb Michigan reference. Further proof the arousel Buckeyes have for Michigan!

      One thing of note is that the roads around Detroit see an increadable amount of truck traffic with Canada. It also sees alot of tourism traffic as well, especially from Ohio. Don't beleive me just take a drive north on any Michigan highway and they will be filled with Ohio and Indiana drivers headed to northern Michigan.
      • 6 Years Ago
      So hilarious and so true!!

      Great post.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's fun to see all of the comments; people sure seem to think that the grass in greener on the other side! Dream on!

      Truck traffic destroys roads - no doubt - but Detroit is the largest international land port in the US! 18% of all international land trade is through Detroit! There are plans to reconstruct the 50 year-old roads, but that will cost a few billion dollars! But we're only spending $5 billion a month in Iraq, so we're good for it, right?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I lived in SE Michigan until a year ago. I live in Southern WIsconsin now... same weather, but IMO much better roads. Yes, there are stretches that remind me of home, but there are orange signs up telling me when the resurfacing project starts!

      I lived in Oakland County, currently the 4th richest county in the USA (think about that...) & major, high traffic roads through high taxed 'hoods would make James Stewart & Ricky Carmichael feel right at home! Orchard Lake Rd., Northwestern Hwy, Telegraph Rd... roads that shouldn't have chunks missing.

      I worked in Auburn Hills... home of the Detroit Pistons, the "new" Chrysler, & until recently VW/ Audi. For every new project ...a mile or so away roads so F-ing cobbled it makes you forget the "new".

      Hands down MI roads are crap. The state should blow-up MDOT & start over. Shameful is an understatement.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hey,

      At least Michigan roads don't sink. All of New Orleans' road issues come from swampy ground and hurricanes.

      I've seen 2 foot deep potholes. It's kinda funny because the asphalt literally deforms and gets ruts in it. On one road that I travel on occasion, the drains and manhole covers are about 4-6 inches above the normal level of the road, with little mounds around them...

      It's interesting, because once you go 10 miles upriver, everything becomes buttery-smooth.

      That is, it's buttery-smooth unless you're traveling on I-10 west of Lafayette...
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hey guys, ever seen the movie, "Falling Down"? Remember part when D-Fens says, "Now tell me what
      's wrong with the street? That's right nothing. Because you have to use all of your budget up this year, if you don't then you get less money next year!"

      Worst road is in West Bloomfield, on Orchard Lake road between maple and 14 mile. Absolutely horrid. So let's see here. One of the richest cities in Michigan, in one of the richest counties (Oakland) in US, in a supposedly richest country in the world - still cannot get its roads right.

      It's pathetic - the poor quality of asphaplt/concrete, lazy construction workers with a white castle in left hand and a bud light in their right. Cones which close lanes while no work whatsoever is being done for weeks! List goes on and on.

      I got a response from Oakland County Road Commission, according to them Orchard Lake will get fixed in 2009 - best case scenario. Such losers these people are...not to mention corrupt.

      Bolivia, a 3rd world country has better roads. Russia just agreed on a $500mil project to put in a proper road infrastructure.

      Yay...go USA #1 at BS, and not much else.
      • 6 Years Ago
      hahaha this is SO true! And trust me, as someone who lives in Philly, goes to school in Ann Arbor, and works in Atlanta, I know alll about shitty roads.

      The award for the crappiest road goes to Atlanta, hands down. some of the roads are so bad you think your car is going to literally fall in a pothole. Pennsylvania wins the award for longest construction time. How long has 309 been under construction? 5+ years? Finally, Michigan wins the award for the most inconvenient construction. i got lost taking a detour off of 75 ( right in the middle of Detroit) and ended up....right in the middle of Detroit. trust me, Detroit is NOT the kind of city you want to be lost in. after stopping at a gas station with 5 bullet holes in the window i got directions back to the highway and got the hell out of there
      • 6 Years Ago
      That's the problem. The construction companies and unions that work on the roads don't WANT to do it right b/c then they wouldn't have a steady job year round doing sub-standard fixes on crappy roads.
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