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Bridge Michigan
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Guest column: Snyder charts right course on roads

By James A. Jacob/Ajax Paving

Cars swerving to miss potholes, bumper-to-bumper congestion, concrete falling from dangerous bridges and a lack of enhanced safety features such as broad shoulders along roadways create hazards for Michigan drivers. Michigan roads are notoriously known as some of the worst in the nation. A recent trucker survey ranked Michigan second-worst behind only Pennsylvania.

And a 2009 study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation concluded that Michigan loses $383 million per year in vehicle accident costs where road conditions contributed to crash frequency or severity.

In addition to safety concerns and accident costs, there are economic consequences that Michigan is suffering from as well due to poor roadways.

Manufacturing, tourism and agriculture form the backbone of the state’s economy. These job providers rely on the state’s transportation system to safely and efficiently get their products to market. Unfortunately, they are less competitive when vehicles get stuck in traffic or get beat up by the constant wear-and-tear imposed by rough roads.

Our out-of-state guests often experience less than “Pure Michigan” when they drive their cars or RVs on poorly maintained thoroughfares leading to key travel destinations.

But, there are significant cost savings if we choose to manage our assets effectively.

Allowing our roads to fall apart means that taxpayers are forced to pay for costly reconstruction projects. It’s been estimated that the public pays four to six times the cost by doing the elaborate reconstruction projects, as opposed to smaller, ongoing inexpensive repairs. There’s an old adage that says, “you’re going to pay for good roads whether you have them or not."

We can do better in Michigan.

A recent study by the conservative Anderson Economic Group says that if policy-makers do nothing to address our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, it will cost our state 12,000 jobs. It is estimated that Michigan already has 32,000 miles of poor roads and more than 3,000 poor bridges. But, the report also notes that a bold plan of action to reconstruct our state’s transportation infrastructure would create an additional 15,000 jobs -- even with an increased user fee to pay for it -- because of the economic benefits associated with sound infrastructure.

Gov. Rick Snyder should be commended for his October infrastructure message and his proposal to fix the state’s ailing transportation network. His plan includes doing away with the state’s 19-cent gas tax and replacing it with a tax on “Big Oil” based on the wholesale price of fuel. The tax change would place a disincentive on fuel companies from raising prices, while being revenue-neutral based on current prices.

Because today’s road maintenance dollars are based largely off of how much fuel is consumed, as vehicles become more fuel efficient, the ability to pay for road improvements decline rapidly. The Michigan Legislature has not adjusted the gas tax to keep up with inflation, increasing fuel taxes only once in 27 years. Making this transition away from a per-gallon gas tax, as Snyder proposes, will allow the state to keep up with maintaining our roads while no longer suffering from years of legislative inaction and neglect.

The Snyder plan also suggests a $10 a month increase in vehicle registration fees as a way to dig our state out of the hole that we are in. This modest increase would mean the average Michigan driver would pay approximately $40 per month to have full access to more than 120,000 miles of roadway -- far less than consumers pay for a monthly cell phone or cable TV bill. This money would allow the state to pave an additional 1,300 lane miles each year and reconstruct 400 bridges.

While, the Snyder plan will not serve to solve all of our traveling ills, it would go a long way to put us on the road to recovery. We, as citizens, need to encourage and support our state elected leaders to make the right move and address this situation by finding ways to increase investment in our transportation network.  By laying the foundation, we can turn around Michigan’s economy, create good-paying jobs and make Michigan great again!

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