Rusty and rutted, infrastructure holds state back

While Michigan’s roads and bridges crumble, lawmakers in Lansing dither.

“Our infrastructure is in terrible shape,” said Michael Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a trade group.

“There is a unanimous recognition of the need among elected officials,” he added. “But no one can really figure out where we go in finding solutions.”

Michigan has the second-worst roads and bridges in the nation, second only to Pennsylvania, according to the most recent data available and compiled for the 2012 Michigan Scorecard.

Thirty-seven percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition and 30 percent of Michigan’s bridges are structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Keeping transportation funding at current levels would result in 65 percent of the state’s roads falling into poor condition by 2018, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Michigan’ transportation infrastructure was given a “poor” rating this year by the scorecard, which also graded infrastructure as “poor” in 2010 and 2008.

A statewide survey released in March by the Michigan Environmental Council found that 87 percent of Michigan residents think the state’s roads are in fair or poor condition. Sixty-four percent of those polled said they would pay more to fix and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.

In a special message on infrastructure last fall, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed spending an additional $1.4 billion a year to fix roads and bridges.

“Michigan’s infrastructure is living on borrowed time,” he said. “We must reinvest in it if we are to successfully reinvent our economy.”

Snyder proposed raising the additional money by replacing the state’s 19-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax with a wholesale tax on fuel and raising the vehicle registration fee by $120 a year.

Although bills have been introduced to do just that, they are going nowhere in a Republican-controlled Legislature loathe to raise taxes.

Some critics of the funding plan, including the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, say the state should first reprioritize funding, such as eliminating subsidies for city bus systems.

But the politically powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which generally opposes tax increases, supports Snyder’s plan.

“The quality of a state’s transportation system has a major impact on economic growth and Michiganmust make the smart investments to reinvent Michigan,” Chamber President Rich Studley said last fall. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

But Nystrom said he doesn’t see any action happening this year because of the November election to select a new House of Representatives. Raising taxes in an election year is all but unthinkable.

Lawmakers also dealt Snyder a blow last year when they refused to approve a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor. Canada had offered to pay for Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge cost, which Snyder said could be used as Michigan’s match for additional federal highway funding.

Nystrom said the introduction of funding bills in the Legislature is at least a start toward addressing the state’s needs for repairing roads and bridges.

“Some momentum is building,” he said. “The leadership knows something needs to be done. The introduction of bills opens dialogue and debate.”

Rick Haglund has had a distinguished career covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers he wrote a statewide business column and was one of only three such columnists in Michigan. He also covered the auto industry and Michigan’s economy extensively.

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Phil Anderson
Thu, 05/17/2012 - 8:58am
Eight years of Jenny Granholm's incompetence - not to mention concentration on providing $$$$ for the "taker-class" with no concern for the crumbling but highly important infrastructure - has left Michigan a second- or third-class state. Thank you, Jen. You left a mark on Michigan. One which will be enduring.
Javan Kienzle
Thu, 05/17/2012 - 9:00am
"Lawmakers also dealt Snyder a blow last year when they refused to approve a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor." Lawmakers didn't even get a chance to vote on the bridge because the proposal never got out of committee -- the majority of legislators on the committee received campaign "donations" from the Moroun family. So it is not correct to say that the Michigan Legislature refused to approve the new bridge; actually, they never got a chance to vote on it. So we don't know whether the majority would have voted FOR or AGAINST it.
Fri, 05/18/2012 - 9:59am
As a county road commissioner, I can tell you first hand we are struggling to maintain our road system. Last winter was mild and we saved some money on winter maintenance but the increased cost of diesel fuel and paving materials are going to eat up those savings quickly. What the public doesn't see is that salt purchase contracts required us to purchase a minimum, so even if we don't use it all we still have to take delivery on the minimum. With our salt shed full, we are fortunate to have permission from MDOT to store our overage at their salt storage area. But come fall and we have to order for next season we will have to estimate and purchase basd on current inventory. When the salt company projects lower sales, the price goes up. We are loosing the battle to just keep our road system in the status quo condition. The portion of gas tax we receive from the state is not keeping up with the cost of providing service and we have reached the end of the line on cutting staff, joint purchasing with others and doing all we can in house. Less people going to work, high cost of fuel, and more efficient vehicles all equate to less fuel tax revenue. State tax is a fixed amount per gallon so it doesn't matter what the price is per gallon, the state collects the same amount. The politicians won't touch the gas tax issue and the cost of registration because of public opinion. I believe this increase would only delay the inevitable. Sooner or later we must go to a mileage based fee system to pay for roads. Then we will see good roads for all whether you drive an electric or an SUV.
Fri, 05/18/2012 - 11:03am
Here's the latest link to the Michigan Transportation Dashboard to compare the different areas of the State. lot of work went into this information to present a true picture of what's happening to Michigan Roads. This just reflects our primary road system which gets Federal funding. The local road system is not as well documented or funded and is deteriorating at a faster rate. Because of the costs to rebuild a road in poor condition, the focus has switched to trying to preserve the fair to good roads and we're forced to let the poor roads go, eventually to gravel.