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.
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 over 170 bridges. The commission serves 21 townships and over 635,000 residents of Kent County.