High-tech van measures W. MI road conditions

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Everyone has an opinion on the condition of the roads they travel.

In West Michigan, the Grand Valley Metro Council’s road evaluations are literally driven by data.

Behind the wheel of a white Ford Econoline van, Mike Zonyk, transportation manager for GVMC, is the road guy.

In the passenger seat, Mike Brameijer, GVMC system administrator and transportation planner, is the tech guy.

Together, they hit the streets in the council’s pavement asset management van, loaded to the hilt with gadgetry.

“Up top, you can see forward facing and a back facing camera,” Brameijer said.

“Lasers… measure the rutting,” Brameijer said while pointing to the bumper mounted lasers.

And on the rear wheel is a device that measures the impact of potholes.

In most communities, road evaluations are done by simply driving around and observing road conditions.

But so-called windshield surveys don’t always tell the full story.

You need data.

“GVMC is actually the only organization that has a van like this in Michigan,” Brameijer said.

The van first hit the road in 2006 and covers about 2,500 miles of roadway every summer.

The equipment on the van measures every bump, crack and pothole. It then feeds into onboard computers, tied to a GPS system.

They then assign the roadway a number.

“It’s a rating system from one, being really poor, to ten, which is a brand-new road,” Zonyk said.

Are the roads as bad as we think they are?

“Yeah, they are. And it’s only getting worse,” Zonyk said.

And there’s not much money to fix them. Therefore, it is important to determine what roads need to be fixed and to what degree.

The information gathered by GVMC helps determine how federal road funds — $275 million over the next five years in Kent and portions of Ottawa counties — will be spent, as well as locally generated funding.

“We get that information down to the local jurisdictions so that they can create an asset management program of their own, to try to figure out what works out for the budget they have,” Zonyk said.

They don’t make the decision alone.

There’s always a representative from Michigan Department of Transportation and a local official riding along.

“It’s a conversation,” Zonyk said. “We want to allow for the best assessment. With four heads out there looking at the road conditions, we can provide something we’re proud of to give back to our jurisdictions.”

GVMC has created an online survey to find out how residents feel about transportation issues in the area.

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