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Another View: Michigan needs progress on improving infrastructure

Friday, February 17, 2012   (0 Comments)
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Governor Rick Snyder demonstrated his leadership style of relentless positive action by stepping out with an infrastructure message last October and then reinforcing it in his January State of the State address, which both called for increased transportation funding.

Progress on providing that funding for Michigan is being paved with a bi-partisan package of bills that is making its way through the Legislature. The bills include important revenue enhancements and reforms that will ultimately help Michigan's economy and benefit every Michigan driver.

Infrastructure is a basic public service that needs to be provided for by our government. Because of inadequate funding, most road agencies in Michigan have been struggling to provide basic public service, such as filling potholes, repairing bridges, snow plowing and trimming grass. In addition, many have made significant changes to become leaner and more efficient with taxpayer dollars. In order to boost investment, we must consider adjustments to the traditional user fees such as fuel taxes and registration fees. These are the only two revenue sources collected by our state even as prices at the pump fluctuate drastically each week. Not a penny of the six percent sales tax that is paid on every gallon of gas is dedicated to Michigan's roads and bridges.

While the infrastructure legislation moves through the Legislature, there has been much debate in the media regarding whether or not lawmakers need to "tread carefully" with any plans to raise the gas tax and registration fees. What we need to focus on even more are the benefits the legislation will provide to the public. What will our return on investment be if we increase funding for transportation in Michigan? 

The first answer is jobs and economic growth in all major segments of our state affected by transportation, such as tourism, manufacturing and agriculture. Secondly, increased funding will provide for fewer crumbling roads and safer bridges. Thirdly, funding will ultimately result in fewer orange barrels around the same stretch of road every few years as the "band-aid" approach to road repairs is replaced by reconstruction that will last much longer. Temporarily filled potholes will be replaced by improved pavement; "plywood diapers" that appear under bridges to keep the crumbling concrete from smashing windshields will become a distant memory; and transit systems will be updated, especially in congested urban areas. Finally, the reforms that are included in the package will help guarantee that taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and efficiently.

All of those benefits will be possible because of increased revenue to fill the transportation funding pot that has been steadily dwindling. In real inflation-adjusted dollars, the revenue that is collected today for our infrastructure is equal to that which was collected in 1974; and yet, the cost of construction materials, such as steel, cement, asphalt, and diesel fuel, have escalated dramatically due to global demand. If legislators do nothing with regard to increasing transportation investment, we risk a continuing fiscal crisis. Currently, 32 percent of Michigan's roads are ranked in poor condition. It is estimated that by 2018 this number will jump to over 65 percent. Moreover, historical data tells us that bringing a road from poor to good pavement condition costs six times more than it does to bring a road from fair to good condition. We cannot continue to kick the can down the proverbial pothole riddled road.

The time for finding a solution for Michigan's dramatic infrastructure needs is now. What we need is continued relentless positive action on the part of our elected leaders in Lansing, and we encourage them to be bold and long-term in their thinking. The proposed package of bills will benefit every single resident of Michigan, the state that put the world on wheels. An improved surface transportation network will foster an economic resurgence, improve public safety and will lay the foundation for Michigan to once again be considered a premier place to live and do business.

Mike Nystrom executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Associationand co-chair of the Michigan Transportation Team

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