Origins of the Kent County Road Commission

Like many of Michigan’s highways and county roads, the origin of the Kent County network dates back centuries to trails created by Native American tribes. Narrow in scope, the original foot paths allowed for travel along bodies of water and helped link the state’s numerous rivers.

The introduction of settlers’ pack horses, and later oxen-drawn wagons, prompted the widening and expansion of these trails. When the Michigan Territory was established in 1805, Governor William Hull set up road districts within which farmers began to build roadways along and through their property that provided access to market centers. There was little interconnectivity, however, between districts. As Michigan’s population expanded, so too did the need for a planned network of longer distance, stronger built, roads.

In the early 1900s, a Detroit native named Horatio Earle pioneered the “good roads” movement, campaigning for state-aid for roads and a national network of interstate highways.
Earle’s efforts helped convince the Michigan Legislature to create the Michigan State Highway Department and provide funding assistance to counties and townships for road construction according to statewide standards.

In 1909, the Legislature passed the County Road Act, permitting Michigan counties, by vote of its residents, to create a county road commission and network of county roads. In 1911, voters approved the creation of the Kent County Road Commission and an initial county network spanning 220 miles and, in 1912, county voters approved a $600,000 bond to finance the needed improvements along the network.

Initially, KCRC operated from temporary offices located in the Kent County Courthouse and a maintenance barn at Ionia Avenue and Michigan Street in Grand Rapids. In 1923, KCRC relocated operations to its own 14.5-acre property along the Grand River at 1500 Scribner Avenue. This new site provided a centralized location within the county, which extended to what is now the northern border of Grand Rapids.

The next several decades brought significant growth in population and business development throughout Kent County, thus increasing the demand for road construction and maintenance. In response, satellite garages were constructed in Rockford, Cedar Springs, Sparta, Ada, Caledonia, and Wyoming.

By 1975, the county road network had expanded to over 1,750 miles, and KCRC had begun maintaining portions of the state's trunkline network under contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). KCRC determined it could reduce costs and improve operational efficiency by consolidating its six satellite garages into three major complexes.

In 1981, the North Complex opened on 14 Mile Road along U.S. 131. In 1987, the Scribner Avenue location was remodeled and expanded to become KCRC's Central Complex. In 1991, KCRC completed construction of the South Complex off Patterson Avenue on the northern boundary of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (formerly Kent County Airport).

In 2004, a joint effort between KCRC and MOOT led to the construction of KCRC's fourth facility. The Southwest Complex was built to provide greater operational efficiency to maintain the recently constructed M-6 freeway along with the county roads in the burgeoning southwest portion of the county.

In 2023, after 100 years at the Scribner location, KCRC relocated its Central Complex and administrative office to a new 29-acre site at 1900 4 Mile Road in Walker, Michigan.

Today, KCRC has grown to become the second largest road commission in Michigan with a network that spans nearly 2,000 centerline miles of both rural and urban roadways and includes nearly 170 bridges. The commission serves 21 townships and over 660,000 residents of Kent County.

Source: The History of Roads in Michigan, Dorothy G. Pohl, Managing Director for the Ionia County Road Commission, and Norman E. Brown, retired MDOT Act 51 Administrator. http:/i/www.michiganhighways.org/history.html

History of KCRC

100 Years of Road Construction