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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Who's road is it, anyway?

A recent survey shows that many Americans believe that the nation doesn't need more roads to suburbia, just ones that are better maintained. Three-fourths of Americans surveyed believe that either being smarter about development or improving public transportation are both better long-term solutions for reducing traffic congestion than building new roads, according to a survey sponsored by the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America.

The 2007 Growth and Transportation Survey details what Americans think about how development affects their immediate community, and traffic congestion was a top concern. Nearly half of the survey respondents supported improving public transit to reduce congestion, and 26 percent believe developing communities that reduce the need to drive would be the better alternative. Just one in five said new roads were the answer.

That report got me thinking about the whole roads issue as it pertains to real estate locally. I’ve actually had some clients complain to me about the traffic congestion in Milford. Our “rush hour” lasts about an hour in the morning and another hour at night each day. We are a main thoroughfare between I-96 on the south and M-59 to the north, so most of the Highland Township residents who work in the Detroit area pass through our little Village each day. That is both a blessing and a curse. For local residents, it does add to the traffic congestion; but, for the local merchants it also adds to the customer base and helps keep our downtown alive. I have in-laws who live in Romeo and they have told me how the bi-pass out there killed the downtown businesses, one of which they owned at the time. So, it’s probably a good thing that we have a little traffic congestion twice a day. We can grumble about it, but those people passing through help keep our Village vital.

The other thing I thought about are the private roads that are so common in this area, most of them (but not all) in subdivisions that were developed as “site condos” over the last few decades. The people living in those developments may be in for a big and nasty surprise someday in the not to distance future. I have a client right now who lives in a subdivision with private roads that are falling apart. The homeowners association (HOA) has voted to repair the roads, which is estimated at $10,000+ per household. My clients are trying to sell, so they will most likely have to pony up the $10,000 from their proceeds, if we can find a buyer.

Site condo homeowners all face the same situation. The roads in the site condo complex are their responsibility; not just for snow removal in the winter, but for repairs when they come due. Depending upon how good the road work was during the build-phase, that road repair work could be coming due in 10 years or 30 years. Almost none of the HOA’s that I’ve seen are collecting and saving anything for those future repairs. Somehow, most HOA’s seem to see road repair as a “governmental thing”, thinking that somehow the county, Township for Village will step I and make the repairs. They sure will – and they’ll send the homeowners the bill.

So, if you’re considering moving into a site condo complex, read the HOA by-laws to see if they say anything about collecting for road repairs and talk to the HOA president to see what they’re doing about that. Quite honestly, of it’s a fairly new complex and you don’t plan to stay there for a long time; it may not end up mattering to you. But, if this is your retirement home or an older development that you plan on being in for years, check out the condition of the streets and the provisions of the HOA for repairs. In some cases, streets that started out as private roads have been turned over to the local government body, so check to see if that is true for the streets that are in the development that you are considering.

The final thing that I thought about was how many unpaved roads we have in Michigan and in this area in particular. I moved up here from Indiana and have lived in 6-7 other states over my life and have never been in a place where there were some many unpaved roads (I take that back, I used to visit relatives in Mississippi and they probably had as many, if not more). I understand, at some level, that it is connected to our harsh winters and the constant freeze-thaw cycles that hit our roads; which would make maintaining paved roads throughout the county too expensive. But I also know that having to drive over these unpaved roads, especially in the winter, has taken a huge toll on my cars – shortening their lives (or at least the suspension parts) considerably - not to mention how often I must have them washed just to get the mud off. The county does a fairly good job of maintaining the dirt roads in the warmer months, but they just go to pot (actually to pot-holes) in the winter months. I wonder if this is mainly a Michigan thing or whether all of the states in the Frost Belt have extensive networks of unpaved roads. Let me hear from you on that.

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