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Detroit Free Press Guest Editorial: Shifts in road funds are counterproductive

Wednesday, May 26, 2010   (0 Comments)
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It wouldn’t make sense to borrow money on a credit card to make the monthly house payment, but that kind of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” mentality is exactly how Michigan lawmakers are approaching the transportation budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. 


The Republican-controlled Senate – on a largely party-line vote – has proposed unconscionable cuts of $85 million from the current transportation budget to secure $475 million in federal matching money that would otherwise be left on the table in Washington. 


But that’s a deceitful way to do business. And in the long run it could end up doing further harm to Michigan’s battered economy. The House and Senate must work together to come up with a responsible plan. 


Among the cuts the Senate approved to leverage the federal money, are draconian measures to: 


  • Cut in half the money for Welcome Centers along the state’s borders. It would save $2.5 million. While the state spends tens of millions promoting itself as a tourist destination through its Pure Michigan ad campaign, does it make sense to put “closed” signs at welcome centers? Hardly. 


  • Gut snowplowing and highway grass mowing programs. It would cut spending by $48 million. But it would make eyesores of medians and roadsides, with 6-feet-high grass by summer’s end. And snow removal on weekends? Forget about it, except in emergencies. Routine snow plowing on state trunk lines would also be significantly reduced, which would create a further drag on local economic development efforts. 


  • Slash $27 million from the Transportation Economic Development Fund, in effect crippling Michigan’s efforts to make the infrastructure upgrades that can be the clincher in attracting businesses to locate or expand in Michigan. The cut makes even less sense when you factor in the federal matching money often available for such projects. 


We all recognize that Michigan is facing treacherous economic times, but if the leaders of the Michigan House and Senate want to get the economy back on track, they must grasp the basic truth that it can’t be done without a top-notch network of roads, bridges and transit systems. 


The time has come for legislative leaders to park the partisan gamesmanship at the curb and work together to identify reliable, long-term funding sources to provide for a safe and efficient transportation system. That means talking about what can be done with user fees on gasoline and diesel fuels, vehicle registration fees and other new funding sources. 


Just this month, a study came out listing the Top 50 Michigan transportation projects that could be undertaken to help propel an economic revival in this state. The report by TRIP – a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that promotes transportation policies to improve safety, protect the environment and enhance economic productivity – noted that much of Michigan’s economic success in the 20th Century was a direct result of its then-superior transportation system. 


Gimmicks and schemes won’t create the quality transportation network needed to drive Michigan’s economic future. It’s time the Michigan Legislature proposed a real solution to Michigan’s transportation crisis. 


Mike Nystrom is executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association and co-chair of the Michigan Transportation Team, which is a broad-based, bipartisan partnership of business, labor, local government, associations and citizens with the goal of improving Michigan’s transportation infrastructure. Visit for more information. 

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