Pro-Proposal 1 ad’s claims go beyond facts, drawing a foul

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Editor’s note: Some of the Safe Roads Yes campaign’s media activities are led by Martin Waymire, a Lansing-based public relations firm which also does work for The Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. The firm has no role in Bridge's reporting on Proposal 1.

Who:Safe Roads Yes, a pro-Proposal 1 consortium
What:“Does,” 1-minute ad
The call:Foul

Relevant text of the ad

"(Proposal 1) fixes Michigan’s more than 1,000 dangerous bridges and repairs our roads, because a third of the fatal or serious accidents are due to poor roads. It guarantees that every dime of state tax you pay at the pump goes to transportation. It requires road builders to warranty their work; if they don’t build it right, they pay, not us. ...Fact: We spend less per person on roads than any other state."

Statements under review

(Proposal 1) fixes Michigan’s more than 1,000 dangerous bridges and repairs our roads, because a third of the fatal or serious accidents are due to poor roads.

Both parts of this sentence rely on information from TRIP, a national transportation research group funded by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, businesses involved in road construction and engineering, labor unions and others. And both claims are not entirely accurate.

Rocky Moretti, TRIP’s director of policy and research, said Michigan has 11,072 bridges, according to the National Bridge Inventory, and 1,295 are classified as “structurally deficient.” This is not necessarily the same as “dangerous,” however. The state Department of Transportation defines structural deficiency as a bridge in poor condition according to certain federal standards, but they can remain safe to carry at least some traffic, Moretti said, perhaps with lower weight limits. “Dangerous” is not a classification in data collection, but a judgment call made by transportation officials, and a dangerous bridge would be closed, said Jeff Cranson, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

(A good example of a structurally deficient but safe-to-travel bridge would be the many with plywood decking installed on the underside, to keep pieces of concrete from falling onto drivers passing underneath, Cranson said.)

The second claim is on even shakier ground. When Bridge went looking for data on how many accidents can be attributed to Michigan’s poorly maintained roads, a State Police spokeswoman said it doesn’t exist because there’s no place to note it on an accident report. Officers can observe weather, time of day, speed and other factors, but the uniform accident reporting standard doesn’t yet take note of potholes or other pavement defects.

Moretti clarified: The one-third figure, he said, is widely accepted in transportation-research circles nationally, but “poor roads” covers a wide range of factors, including bad design, lack of lighting, lane width, lack of guardrails, shoulder conditions, no rumble strips and more. It’s fair to say that when Michigan drivers complain about the condition of their highways, they’re not talking about rumble strips or lighting. Nevertheless, industry standard practice today dictates that when pavement is improved, safety features are added when possible. Interstate median strips now are built with post-and-wire barriers to prevent out-of-control drivers crossing over, for instance.

So while it’s reasonable to assume that the improvement of Michigan’s highways will make them generally safer, using the one-third figure over video of cars navigating deteriorated asphalt gives the impression it’s responsible for one-third of serious-injury accidents in Michigan. That claim is wholly unsupported by anything approaching evidence.

It guarantees that every dime of state tax you pay at the pump goes to transportation.

Should Proposal 1 pass, the state sales tax would no longer be collected on gasoline. The state per-gallon fuel tax, now at 19 cents for gasoline and 15 cents for diesel, would be replaced by a gradually rising percentage tax based on the wholesale price of those fuels. That money would go to “transportation,” at least 90 percent of it to roads and bridges, but also to public transportation and recreation trails. (The latter is included because those trails are used by snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles, most of which use gas.)

It requires road builders to warranty their work; if they don’t build it right, they pay, not us.

True. There is a provision in one of the bills to require warranties, where possible on projects costing $1 million or more. The vast majority of projects cost at least that much.

Fact: We spend less per person on roads than any other state.

True. Our road spending per capita is lowest in the country, at $154, according to 2010 census data.

The call:Foul

Michigan’s roads are in terrible condition, one of the few facts about Proposal 1 that both sides agree on. Safe Roads Yes’ own ads include a personal account by a woman who had a stray piece of concrete kicked up by another car come through her windshield, narrowly missing her and her daughter. Similar anecdotes are no doubt being shared by residents across the state. State transportation reports, drivers’ own eyeballs and water cooler stories confirm the pitiful state of roads in Michigan. Which makes it all the more puzzling that this ad relies on shaky to nonexistent data to sell this proposal. It’s not only inaccurate, it’s unnecessary.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 04/30/2015 - 11:21am
Against my better judgement, I voted YES on Prop 1 because our roads are in such poor shape. As the saying goes, " you get what you pay for". However, don't be mislead by the claim that some taxes raised will be going into the school aid fund. All districts have been "bullied' into supporting this bill with the threat that if it fails, school funding will face dramatic cuts.....again. If it does pass, the money raised from this bill will be used to offset rising retirement rates set by the state. Meaning, there will be no new funds for education. Michigan has the second highest paid legislators in the nation. Why is it that they can't do their job to raise the needed money to fix our roads. Instead, they put that task on the voters so they can say they didn't raise taxes, the voters did.
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 12:23am
Interesting that police have no place to note the road condition after an accident. It would be simple enough to have the data on every road defect accurately marked road by road and pot hole by pot hole.
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 9:54am
Its not that puzzling why they went this route with the ad, they want to get an emotional response from viewers in seeing someone almost injured due to bad roads, it will make them more sympathetic in voting yes (in theory anyway).