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Associated Press: Gov. Granholm: Bad roads, bridges could be good for new jobs

Thursday, February 28, 2008   (0 Comments)
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This story, with Mike Nystrom's comments, received a massive amount of media coverage across the state in newspapers, radio and television. 

Associated Press 


LANSING — Moving up $150 million in projects to replace or repair more roads and bridges this summer should add 2,100 construction and engineering jobs in Michigan, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Wednesday. 


The 34 projects sprinkled around the state originally were set for 2009 or later, but were moved up as part of the governor's economic stimulus project. The state Transportation Commission is expected to approve them when it meets Thursday. 


The largest project will spend $53 million to reconstruct a section of Interstate 94 in St. Clair County. The smallest involves $198,941 for beam end repair on a I-94 bridge over Portage Road in Kalamazoo County. 


None of the money will be available for dealing with potholes in local roads, but Granholm said it will be used to improve deteriorating state roads and bridges this summer. 


A spokesman for the road construction industry said the additional $150 million isn't enough. 

"While we applaud the governor's acknowledgment that our roads need an emergency cash infusion, this small amount of money won't even begin to make a difference for drivers out there who are dodging dangerous potholes every day," said Mike Nystrom of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. 

He added in a release that the state has a shrinking pot of money this year from which to pay for roads and bridges because revenues from the state gasoline tax are shrinking as motorists buy less fuel because of high gasoline prices. The state also has less money to spend because it has run through the road money from its earlier Jobs Today bonding program. 

The decrease has left the state with $300 million less to spend on roads and bridges, a drop of 18 percent, Nystrom said. He was speaking on behalf of the Michigan Transportation Team, a group that has launched a campaign to lobby lawmakers to spend more on transportation. 


Granholm agreed during Wednesday's news conference that the state needs more money for roads. The state spent about $1.6 billion on its road program in the last fiscal year, an amount that could drop closer to about $1.2 billion in the next few years as revenues decline. 


But the governor again rejected a plan that MITA supports to increase the state gasoline tax 3 cents a year for three years, from 19 cents a gallon now to 28 cents a gallon by 2010. She said the tax is regressive and should not be raised when gasoline prices are rising. 


"We know the pinch has been very substantial" at the pump, she said. She added that raising the tax won't bring in more money in the long run because motorists will be buying less gasoline as they shift toward driving hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. 


The state plans to sell bonds to raise most of the $150 million for the accelerated projects, although a small amount will come from refinancing the state's debt. 


Nystrom criticized that decision, saying the state Department of Transportation already spends 20 percent of its road budget to repay bonds borrowed in previous years. 

"It's time for state policymakers to stop mortgaging our future with this `pave today, pay tomorrow' mentality," he said.


The governor is looking for other ways to pay for road projects without raising the gasoline tax. She expects to hear back by late October from the Alternative Road Funding Task Force, a group of legislative leaders and people representing manufacturing, tourism and public transportation she appointed earlier this year. 


A separate 17-member Citizens Advisory Committee made up of road builders and business and government groups will submit its own report to the task force. 


Granholm said Wednesday that she's not interested in turning current freeways into toll roads, but said new road projects may be done in partnership with private companies and require drivers to pay to use them. 

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