Celebrating 100 years of County Roads

By: Emily Kizer, Communications Manager at the Washtenaw County Road Commission

Is 100 years really that long? For some, it may seem like forever, for others it might seem like a blip in time. No matter where you stand on that question, 100 years is certainly something to celebrate. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) and throughout the year, the staff at WCRC is celebrating this important milestone.   

1919 was a big year in our nation’s history – it marked the end of WWI with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles; the 19th amendment was passed by Congress giving women the right to vote (it would be ratified by ¾ of states in 1920); it also marked the start of Prohibition, banning alcohol consumption and kicking off the roaring ‘20s. If you were lucky enough to own a car in 1919, its top speed was 40 mph and a gallon of gas cost 25 cents. 

There was a lot going on in Washtenaw County too. On April 7, 1919, Washtenaw County voters approved the “Good Roads Proposition”, 9,134 in favor, 2,351 opposed. It had taken multiple attempts for this measure to pass. A county-wide road system had been approved by voters in 1913 but then it was rescinded by voters in 1914. Despite this earlier trepidation, the 1919 election results were very clear – the voters were tired of the poor road conditions that had started to develop all over the county. With this mandate, the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) was officially established. 

For the next 100 years, the staff at WCRC has been working hard to maintain a safe road system for the traveling public. 

It hasn’t always been an easy road (pun intended). It has meant long nights away from home working through dangerous conditions like the Blizzard of 1978 or the Dexter Tornado of 2012. It also has meant working through budget and personnel shortages caused by national crises, like the Great Depression, WWII, and the Great Recession. Being a county road commission has also meant innovating through periods of dramatic cultural change, like the explosion of the car culture to age of autonomous vehicles and social media. 

Throughout the ups and downs of the last century in America, WCRC has gone from maintaining roads with horse and buggy to an innovative 130-person agency in charge of maintaining 1,600 miles of county roads for the 367,000 residents of Washtenaw County. 

Who knows what the next 100 years will hold for Washtenaw County but the staff at WCRC will be ready to help get there. Happy 100th Birthday WCRC!

Learn more about WCRC by visiting wcroads.org.

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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