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Lansing State Journal: Funds fall short for miles of mid-Michigan road work

Wednesday, June 25, 2008   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sara Jacobs
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By the road commission's count, about 160 miles of pavement in Eaton County is due for asphalt resurfacing to repair cracks, crumbling and potholes. 


But because of an increase in the cost of materials and a decline in revenues, largely because drivers are cutting back on trips, saving gas and thus paying less in gas taxes, only about three and a half miles will be resurfaced by the road commission this year. 

"We're doing very little asphalt resurfacing this year," said Blair Ballou, engineer-manager of the road commission. "We've got many miles that need it, but not enough money to do it all." 


Though the orange barrels are out in force again this summer, transportation officials throughout mid-Michigan said there aren't nearly as many as there should be or have been in years past. 


Much of that problem, officials said, comes down to inadequate funding. 


"Certainly we would like to do more if we had more money," agreed Chad Gamble, public service director for the city of Lansing. "We're at a very challenging time with regards to the maintenance of our roads." 


The state's road and bridge-fixing budget dropped by 18 percent from $1.2 billion in 2006-07 to $900 million in 2007-08. And revenues from the state's 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax are off, Ballou said, by about 4 percent from five years ago. 


"People aren't driving as much as they used to," said James Charles, interim director of operations for the Ingham County Road Commission. "It doesn't matter how much a gallon of gas is; we only get 19 cents." 


The problem is exacerbated by the rising cost of materials, officials said. 


"It's just a complete game-changer," Ballou said. 


Asphalt cost about $20 a ton in 2003 and $45 a ton last year. Ingham County Road Commission officials said they're now buying it for $70 a ton. 


"We are literally on a collision course with disaster," said Mike Nystrom, vice president of government and public relations for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. "We've got a system that is falling apart and deteriorating as we speak." 


To combat the problem, Nystrom, Ballou, Charles and Gamble back a nine-cent increase over three years in the state's 19-cent-per-gallon gas tax. Each cent increase in the existing tax would raise an estimated $50 million for road repairs. 


State lawmakers, however, said the gas tax issue is a non-starter. 


"We can barely afford the cost of gas that we have right now," said Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester. "It's too much to put on people right now." 


Marsden suggested that, in lieu of a gas tax hike, Michigan should continue to fight for more equitable federal funding. 


Michigan gets 92 cents back from the federal government for roads for every dollar that it pays in taxes. Gov. Jennifer Granholm and congressional leaders have lobbied, unsuccessfully so far, for that to be increased to at least 95 cents on the dollar, a move that would bring in about $40 million in additional funds each year. 


Lansing resident Richard Williams said he's sick of potholes and just wants to see the roads fixed. 


"You've got to have good roads," he said. "They should find a way."

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