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The road to recovery is paved with money: Michigan's road debate

Tuesday, June 25, 2013   (0 Comments)
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Holland - Returning a poor road to good condition costs four or five times more than maintaining a road in fair condition, according to a report from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council.


With road funding up in the air, one thing is certain: At current funding levels, Michigan’s roads will continue to go from bad to worse. And that, according to the annual report, has been a trend for the past nine years.


Several factors have helped temporarily staunch deterioration: road repairs paid for by stimulus dollars, paired with an unusually mild winter (allowing counties to use money normally tagged for maintenance to repair roads) as well as improving management practices statewide.


Between 2011 and 2012, the state’s roads held their own or actually improved slightly. The number of “lane miles” in poor condition decreased from 35 percent to 33.5 percent in 2012. The number of lane miles in fair condition increased from 45.5 percent to 47.6 percent in 2012.


“Though welcome news, the council does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to suggest the nine-year trend is reversing itself,” the report states. “In fact, condition forecasts show that the road system will continue to deteriorate in the future.”


Gov. Rick Snyder proposed raising $1.2 billion a year for roads through increased gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. The plan failed to gain traction in the Legislature, which instead passed a $351 million one-time payout for road repair.


A handful of bills now in committee could do something to increase road funding in the state. Bills on the agenda of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would increase vehicle registration fees (but not by as much as Snyder proposed), create additional fees for hybrid vehicles and move gas taxes to the wholesale market, all of which would raise money for roads.


At least one of the bills has been on the committee’s agenda for nearly a month without a vote.


“... in the political world, it all becomes an issue of nobody wants to say, ‘We need more revenue.’ And we do need more revenue,” Snyder said in a May conversation at The Sentinel offices.


The $351 million of extra money that is in the budget for roads can’t be spent until legislators determine a priority list, said Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland. He hopes more money will be found and amendments made before the Oct. 1 budget deadline.


“It might not be the full $1.2 billion the governor wants, but we certainly want to do our part,” Haveman said.


Finding a solution to Michigan’s roads doesn’t rank very high in the Legislature, Snyder said.


“I wish it ranked higher, because, again, I think there is some pushback and clear resistance to anything asking for more revenue,” he said. “If we don’t do it this year, it’s not going to happen next year. So then you really have two years. Then if you start doing the math, what I describe as a $25 billion bill in 10 years is now, what, a $30 billion bill? 


I may be off a couple billion dollars, but it’s grown significantly. ... People don’t want to pay more, then there’s consequences, and shouldn’t we understand the consequences of that.”


Between 2004 and 2012, 15.4 percent of the roads dropped from good to fair, another 23.9 percent from fair to poor and “5.9 percent slid all the way from good to poor,” according to the report. At the same time, 17.5 percent of 


Michigan roads were improved: 10.9 percent went from fair to good, 3.5 percent from poor to fair and 3.1 percent from poor to good.


Michigan also has a significantly higher percentage of structurally deficient bridges than other Great Lakes states. 


More than 11.4 percent of all bridges in the state are structurally deficient, according to analysis of the 2012 National Bridge Inventory. Indiana is next with 10.66 percent of its bridges deficient, but the other Great Lakes states are all in single digits with Minnesota at 5.14 percent deficient.


One of every three miles of road in Michigan rates as poor.

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