Roads get spotlight, but 447 Michigan bridges in serious condition or worse

SLIDESHOW: A bridge over the Flint River just west of Flint has been under construction since last fall. The bridge, a crucial bypass route for drivers looking to avoid two congested roads, should reopen in May. Genesee County has the second-highest number of bridges in poor shape in Michigan, after Wayne County, a Bridge analysis of state data shows. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

A bridge over the Flint River just west of Flint has been under construction since last fall. The bridge, a crucial bypass route for drivers looking to avoid two congested roads, should reopen in May. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

Steel plates cover holes in the concrete deck of a bridge off Interstate 69 near Bishop International Airport in Flint. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

More than 1,000 bridges in Michigan have posted weight restrictions, like the ones pictured here on a bridge in Genesee County that has been limited to one lane. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

Michigan has aging bridges that demand attention, repair or replacement across much of the state. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

This two-lane rural bridge in Howell Township, in Livingston County, has been restricted to one lane because of structural weakness in the support beams. The restriction shifts vehicles onto stronger supports and allows traffic to continue to safely cross, although it is limited to lighter-weight vehicles. The bridge carries fewer than 500 vehicles a day. (Photo courtesy of the Livingston County Road Commission)

Michigan worst in Midwest

No Midwestern state has a higher percentage of deficient bridges as Michigan, which at 10.7 percent is well above the national rate of 7.6 percent. Nationwide, it has the 10th highest rate.

State Total bridges Percent deficient
Minnesota 13,358 5 %
Ohio 27,277 5.6
Indiana 19,280 6.2
Wisconsin 14,275 7.4
Illinois 26,809 8.5
Michigan 11,228 10.7

Source: American Road and Transportation Builders Association

A year ago, Genesee County bridge inspectors discovered holes in the steel beams holding up a bridge over the Swartz Creek.

The two-lane bridge, on Grand Blanc Road near U.S. 23, is now being held together by temporary steel supports until it can be replaced in 2020 — a roughly $2 million project that, because of its urgency, will be done a year earlier than planned.

That will mean closing the 83-year-old bridge and detouring the roughly 16,000 vehicles that drive over it every day, disrupting businesses and pushing traffic onto an even-busier road a few miles north.

The Swartz Creek span has plenty of company in Genesee County — where roughly 20 percent of the county’s 120 bridges are in serious or critical condition — and across the state.

“The urgency to fix is great,” said Eric Johnston, the county road commission’s engineering director.

The money to fix them? Not so great.

Deteriorating roads dominate much of the budget discussion in Lansing. But aging bridges are quietly hurtling toward or past their expiration dates in communities across Michigan, from the rural Upper Peninsula to freeway-heavy Southeast Michigan, a Bridge Magazine analysis of state bridge data shows.

How bridge conditions are rated  

When bridges are inspected, they’re rated for the condition of various components, including their desk, superstructure and substructure.

Bridges scored on a 0-9 scale

  • Excellent (9): Bridge is new
  • Good (7-8): Still in good shape, may have minor wear
  • Fair (5-6): Wear and tear may start to show; addressed with preventative maintenance
  • Poor (4): Deteriorated, but not an imminent safety risk; move from preventative maintenance to major rehabilitation and they are inspected more frequently
  • Serious (3): Structural elements show major deterioration, but not an imminent safety risk. Repairs move from rehab to likely replacement. Bridge is inspected more frequently.
  • Critical (2): Severe deterioration requires replacement, either the entire bridge or the superstructure. Vehicle weights and lanes may be restricted for safety and more inspections. If not replaced will be closed. 
  • Failure (0-1): Bridge closed (or repaired for light use), or out of service. There are few bridges ranked in this category, according to state data, and all but one are closed. 

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

More than 10 percent of Michigan’s 11,100 bridges are rated poor to failing, the 10th highest rate in the nation and far higher than other Great Lakes states. Among those are 447 bridges listed in April in serious or critical condition, an indicator of significant structural problems such as cracks or corrosion that will require replacement.

The state says it closes bridges that pose an imminent safety risk; 62 currently are closed.

“If the bridge is unsafe, we close it,” said Matt Chynoweth, chief bridge engineer at the Michigan Department of Transportation. “If the bridge is open, it is safe to cross.”

But even bridges that remain open through major repairs cost Michigan plenty. Nearby businesses suffer. More than 1,000 bridges now have posted weight limits, forcing larger or heavier vehicles to find other routes. Traffic becomes clogged along detours. And as more bridges transition from fair to bad shape in the next decade, repair costs are only expected to accelerate.

“I don’t want to say that I worry a lot,” Chynoweth said. “But my mind is never not on the bridges.”

Quick fix needed, but no ready money  

As with roads, the consequence of deferred bridge maintenance only grows. But there isn’t close to enough money to fix the spans that need major repair. MDOT estimates it could cost up to $1 billion to repair Michigan’s most serious bridge deficiencies by the middle of the next decade. That cost is expected to rise if not addressed soon as the  price of materials and labor rise, Chynoweth said.

Each year, counties and cities seek more than $300 million in funding from the state to help local road agencies fix bridges. But MDOT has only $48 million a year to allocate,  so most local projects remain unfunded.

Find troubled bridges in your community

Nearly 450 bridges across Michigan are rated serious or critical (49 of which  are closed because they are unsafe). Engineers grade bridges' safety based on the quality of the deck, superstructure, substructure and drainage culverts. Use this map to see which bridges have serious and critical ratings and what caused them.

Bridge rating areas in Michigan

Graphic courtesy of MDOT

Note: Data is as of mid-April

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

The bridge over the Swartz Creek in Genesee County is among the successful ones — one of 26 local bridge reconstruction projects that received state funding last year, according to government data. That still leaves more than 400 others in serious or critical shape with no funding for bridge repair.

A new report by the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council predicts that, absent new investment, Michigan bridges will “continue to decline after 2018” and that by 2028, “nearly all of the progress made toward improving bridge condition since 2004 could be lost.”

To address the funding gap, MDOT is laying the framework for an ambitious plan it says could get all of Michigan’s bridges in serious and critical condition in better shape by 2025.

Known as “bridge bundling,” MDOT is proposing to repair groups of bridges at once, such as those spanning the same body of water or those with similar design or construction needs. That, in theory, allows local road agencies to save money on bridge projects because the cost would be spread across multiple bridges and the department could standardize design and construction. In essence, they’d be buying in bulk.

Chynoweth said the department has been floating the idea since last fall with local road agencies and is in the process of collecting data from them that will help the state better calculate the cost.

The price tag will be expensive, though: a total of roughly $850 million to $1 billion by 2025.

Bridges last a long time and, like any long-term investment, “it’s really easy to kind of fool yourself into thinking we don’t need to put the money in today,” said Tim Colling, director of the Center for Technology and Training at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, which provides research, training and outreach on infrastructure to state and local governments.

The bridge-bundling approach would not require legislative approval, Chynoweth said, though MDOT is awaiting a decision from state lawmakers on next year’s budget to know how much funding it has to work with.

Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s road funding plan, 4 percent of a proposed 45-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase would go to repair local bridges. That would yield roughly $428 million by 2025 — about half of what MDOT conservatively estimates is needed to fix the most troubled bridges.

Further complicating matters, Whitmer’s plan is already under fire from Republicans who control the budget process, both for the size of the gas tax hike and because she wants to change the way more than $2 billion in new revenue would be shared with counties and cities.

Bridge bundling has early support from the County Road Association of Michigan, which lobbies on behalf of road agencies in all 83 counties, though its director, Denise Donahue, noted that questions remain about how the program would be funded.

Republicans have their own funding questions.

Rep. Jack O'Malley, R-Lake Ann, chairman of the House transportation policy committee, said he is open to MDOT's bridge bundling approach. “I think what they’re attempting to do makes sense,” he told Bridge Wednesday. “You’ve got to bring in equipment, you’ve got to bring in manpower, you’ve got to bring in materials, so if you’re bringing it in for one (bridge project), it’s going to cost more than if you say, ‘Hey, when you’re done with this one, you move to that one and move to this one.’ You’ve got that economy of scale.”

But O’Malley, a first-term lawmaker, said he does not support Whitmer’s proposed gas-tax increase and is still learning about the road-building – and funding – process. He said he believes the state can find money outside of tax increases to put toward bridges.

In the meantime, Chynoweth said MDOT is exploring federal grants for which it wasn’t previously eligible. It also is considering whether to issue bonds worth $1 billion, raising enough money up front to complete the work, with the bonds to be repaid over several years using Whitmer’s proposed new revenue dedicated to bridges.

Since bridges generally are designed to last 75 years, he said, bonding could make sense because the debt, in theory, would be repaid before the bridge deteriorates.

“We hope that it’s realized that the investment is needed,” Chynoweth said. “I have a really hard time paying attention to or getting on board with infrastructure funding being a political debate. It’s a level of investment, just like you do with your house or your car. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you want your house to stay up and you want your car to run.”

Mindful of worst-case scenarios

If MDOT is doing its job correctly, Chynoweth said, drivers shouldn’t even notice when they cross a bridge.

A bridge collapse is so rare, he said, that when it happens it’s a big deal.

In 2007, an interstate bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people when it buckled into the Mississippi River below. Investigators ultimately determined the likely cause was outdated design, which left the bridge vulnerable to collapse if one element of it failed.

Its failure “really woke up a lot of us in terms of what could happen,” Chynoweth said.

He said he has not found a record of a bridge collapsing in Michigan from lack of oversight or maintenance. When it has happened, it’s generally been the result of human or natural causes. MDOT had to rebuild a bridge over Interstate 96 in Livingston County last year after it was hit by a truck, for example. And heavy rains contributed to destroying a bridge on U.S. 31 in Oceana County back in 1986.

A 1967 bridge collapse that killed 46 people in West Virginia led to adoption of federal inspection requirements. All bridges on public roads that are longer than 20 feet must be inspected at least every two years; those with structural problems are examined more often, sometimes every six months.

Bridges, like the roads that carry them, are showing their age. With many bridges designed to last 75 years, some built near the end of World War II are nearing the end of their practical life. Preventative maintenance can help prolong the life of an older bridge, but it’s not a permanent fix.

In Genesee County, nearly half of the 120 working bridges are 80 to 100 years old, said Johnston, the engineering director. They might have been rehabilitated over the years but may still contain some original parts, he said.

And so it goes across the state. In 2018, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan bridges a C-minus grade, describing a landscape of bridges “being propped with temporary supports.”

The engineers’ group noted Michigan is taking positive steps to construct bridges faster while causing the least inconvenience to drivers, such as by doing much of the work offsite, pre-fabricating components and using newer materials to extend the lives of bridges.

But while state and local road agencies generally have improved bridge conditions across Michigan in the past 15 years, forecasts show the trend line heading down into the next decade.

Without money, bridge conditions to worsen

State engineers predict the quality of bridges in Michigan will decline markedly without increased funding for maintenance and repairs. The problem is most acute for bridges maintained by counties and communities. Note: 2023 and 2028 figures are forecasts.

 
 

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation

Close to 51 percent of all state and local bridges are in fair condition this year, according to state projections, with another 39 percent in good condition. One in 10 are considered to be poor.

By 2027, at current funding levels, bridges in fair condition will rise to 56 percent, but fewer bridges are expected to be in good shape and more will be in poor shape.

The problem is more acute locally, where 13 percent of city- and county-owned bridges are considered to be poor this year, compared to 6 percent of state-owned bridges.

Most local bridges in bad shape must be replaced soon. But many local road agencies are strapped for cash and can’t afford to do it on their own.

Counties and cities each receive a share of the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fee revenue, divided up by a state formula adopted in 1951. They can also levy property tax millages to raise extra local money.

In 2018, Alger County in the Upper Peninsula received about $2.7 million from the state to spend primarily on road repairs, said Bob Lindbeck, engineer and manager of the county road commission. He estimates the cost of replacing three of the county’s four bridges that are in serious or critical condition at  $2.1 million — which would use up nearly all of what the county received for road funding.

Alger doesn’t have a countywide roads millage, so applying for some of the $48 million the state doles out each year for bridges is “really our only option” for repairs that go beyond preventative maintenance, Lindbeck said.

So far, the county has struck out.

Alger has applied for more than a decade to get state funding to remove and replace a corroded steel bridge crossing the Au Train River that’s been closed to traffic for about 15 years, Lindbeck said. The bridge, west of Munising, isn’t safe to cross, so the county maintains a dead-end road on either side.

Lindbeck said he is trying to convince the state to approve a $1.1 million replacement project for the bridge, since it could shave critical miles off a detour route if state highway M-28, which runs alongside it, ever needs to close.

“Especially on these low-volume (traffic) roads, it’s difficult to score high enough to get funding,” Lindbeck said. “The need is so great, and the funding falls short of that need.”

In 2015, the state Legislature passed a $1.2 billion road-funding package that raised half the revenue from increases to the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees and the other half by diverting state income taxes to roads. That amount, however, is widely considered insufficient to address the state’s road and bridge challenges.

Trying to replace all bridges in serious and critical condition by 2025 is an aggressive timeline, Chynoweth said. But he says it’s achievable — if Whitmer’s budget proposal succeeds. If Lansing reaches a compromise that lowers new revenue, the bundling concept could still work, but it would be harder to achieve the goal by 2025, he said.

That would leave local officials with dwindling options.

In Livingston County, three bridges along rural stretches were closed within 10 days in April. The county has since reopened one of the bridges and may reopen a second, but that will mean more maintenance and inspections to ensure their safety.

The third bridge, in Green Oak Township, shows signs of structural decay and sits too low over the Huron River, making it vulnerable to flooding. The last time the county asked the state for money to replace it, the cost was pegged at $2.1 million.

At this point, it’s likely the bridge will never reopened.

“For a road carrying 300 cars a day, it’s no longer a sensible investment,” said Mike Craine, managing director of the Livingston County Road Commission.

Money is scarce, he noted, and probably must be conserved for bridges that move the most vehicles.

Craine guesses Livingston County will have to make do with fewer bridges a decade from now: “I don’t think we can do justice to the entire system by saving every bridge.”

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Comments

Jim tomlinson
Mon, 05/13/2019 - 8:54am

Seems like past 8 years would have been a good time to rectify this serious problem.

Luke
Mon, 05/13/2019 - 9:43am

Take a look at the lame duck session in December... As the republicans were dishing out funds to their friends, our bridges were ignored. The system is broken and our priorities are askew.

Ray
Mon, 05/13/2019 - 2:32pm

Well said Luke

Callie Henry
Mon, 05/13/2019 - 10:10am

“I have a really hard time paying attention to or getting on board with infrastructure funding being a political debate. It’s a level of investment, just like you do with your house or your car. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you want your house to stay up and you want your car to run.”

That MDOT engineer has it right. There is science and math and engineering behind these numbers. You get what you pay for, and Michigan hasn't been willing to pay for a long time. We have a lot of catching up to do.

On the other hand, the guy from Livingston County also has a point. If a local bridge that serves 300 cars a day has been closed for years and no one's crying about it, maybe it doesn't need to reopen.

duane
Mon, 05/13/2019 - 6:23pm

What is disappointing is that the engineers at MDOT only give us part of the story, they show us the substructure, the superstructure, the deck and yet they don't tell use what fails and why. Why shouldn't we know the whole story, what if rather than simply asking for money they don't tell us about what could be changed to make the bridges last longer. We hear about the larger trucks, but isn't it true they can design for such added loading, have you ever flown into LAX and the plane [even the 747s taxi across the multi lane highways.
Or could the way maintenance is done improve the life of the bridges? Some times I wonder about the management [do they get rated for results] of the construction of the roads/bridges, it was only a few years ago the head of MDOT acknowledge that warranty bonds and escrow accounts contracts had to have for their work was not being draw on because MDOT did not make a timely review of the work and failed to request the quality assurance funds.
Why should we be so trusting of MDOT if they don't tell us the whole story, or they avoid giving us the criteria for assessing the roads and bridges and their work? When was the last time you heard from MDOT of some new technology they were trying out to see if it would improve the roads and bridges and their usable life?
The politicians will always whine about the money, but where do we turn to better understand what we are paying for and how it can be made better. Who should we trust and why to have confidence we are getting best value for our tax dollars [locally, county wide, state wide]?

middle of the mit
Tue, 05/14/2019 - 9:05pm

"What is disappointing is that the engineers at MDOT only give us part of the story, they show us the substructure, the superstructure, the deck and yet they don't tell use what fails and why. Why shouldn't we know the whole story, what if rather than simply asking for money they don't tell us about what could be changed to make the bridges last longer. We hear about the larger trucks, but isn't it true they can design for such added loading, have you ever flown into LAX and the plane [even the 747s taxi across the multi lane highways."

Have you ever heard of freeze/thaw cycle? They don't have that in LA or LAX. We do!

Our problems come because we have those cycle multiple times per year, sometimes per week. Add those heavy loads to those cycles and the fact that private road builders don't build to last but build to make more money (capitalist system) and that those companies are some of the wealthiest in the state, we get what we get.

"Or could the way maintenance is done improve the life of the bridges? Some times I wonder about the management [do they get rated for results] of the construction of the roads/bridges, it was only a few years ago the head of MDOT acknowledge that warranty bonds and escrow accounts contracts had to have for their work was not being draw on because MDOT did not make a timely review of the work and failed to request the quality assurance funds."

When were you wanting this done? Over the last 8 years? Ha ha ha. The road builders are private corporations. And Republicans do not put limitations on private corporations, unless it is to pay for their auto (not healthcare related expenses, that would make doctors slaves) insurance.

"Why should we be so trusting of MDOT if they don't tell us the whole story, or they avoid giving us the criteria for assessing the roads and bridges and their work? When was the last time you heard from MDOT of some new technology they were trying out to see if it would improve the roads and bridges and their usable life?
The politicians will always whine about the money, but where do we turn to better understand what we are paying for and how it can be made better. Who should we trust and why to have confidence we are getting best value for our tax dollars [locally, county wide, state wide]?"

Why are you blaming MDOT for all of the mess? They simply oversee what private employers do. YES they should oversee better, but they can only do what those in the State Government allow them to do. Want better roads?

Hammer the road makers!

duane
Wed, 05/15/2019 - 9:29pm

Middle,
Let’s take this in parts; have you ever been to Fort Saskatchewan where the freeze and thaw goes deeper into the road bed by feet then here and with noticeably less damage then what we have, and they never heard of the seasons described as ‘winter and road repair’, point is there are many places that design and construct for such conditions. I have yet to hear from an MDOT engineer telling us they can’t build for the freeze thaw cycles in Michigan. So why aren’t we? ‘We’, the proverbial voters, don’t believe if we were willing to pay for it we would get what we asked for [the Governor through MDOT would under design and shift the excess money elsewhere].
What we get for our money is what the contracts MDOT writes and what MDOT enforces, who pays the bills decides on what they pay for. The reality is that a contract has more control over results than the employer, MDOT has more leverage over a contractor then they have over any state employee and the work they do.
I/we can’t change history, but we can start today and change the future. Just because you don’t seem want change or aren’t will to try to change simply makes it a bit harder. I can assure you that there are employers in this state that have set standards developed here and taken them to where they build and operate around the world and made those standards work there. I don’t believe the people at MDOT are any less capable then the people working for those employers. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats may put limits on private employers, but there are those [employers] that have learned from the past and develop expectations for themselves and those they contract with.
I’m not blaming MDOT, but why aren’t they part of the public conversation, with all their knowledge and expertise why aren’t they involve, as recognized ‘knowledgeable people’ helping the public understand the design, construction, and maintenance needs, why aren’t they trying to help people to make informed choices, why aren’t they sharing their perspectives and listening to our perspectives? Who do you trust, those who are silent and aloof or those who you are working with and listening to you?
If you think MDOT should deliver better results, then why aren’t we talking about what those results should be, what it takes to achieve them, how do we ensure they are being achieved, and asking MDOT how they would address those same questions?
We can’t ‘hammer on the road makers,’ we have no leverage. The one who writes the checks and what they accept before they write the checks determines what we get from the ‘road makers.’
With a bit of knowledge between you and me and few more readers and an interested Bridge editor could transform this whole conversation, the roads and bridges, their quality, and funding.

middle of the mit
Thu, 05/16/2019 - 12:10pm

"Let’s take this in parts; have you ever been to Fort Saskatchewan where the freeze and thaw goes deeper into the road bed by feet then here and with noticeably less damage then what we have, and they never heard of the seasons described as ‘winter and road repair’, point is there are many places that design and construct for such conditions. I have yet to hear from an MDOT engineer telling us they can’t build for the freeze thaw cycles in Michigan. So why aren’t we? "

I have never been to Fort Saskatchewan. But I would gander a guess that the roads are built a bit thicker up there or of a different mix of asphalt that is more than a few inches thick. Go take a tape measure to your favorite pot hole. 'We" voters are complaining about the cost to build a road that is only a few inches thick, what would a road twice that thick cost? Are you willing to pony up the costs for better construction and less roads?

‘We’, the proverbial voters, don’t believe if we were willing to pay for it we would get what we asked for [the Governor through MDOT would under design and shift the excess money elsewhere]."

This is a sly way of twisting facts. https://www.micountyroads.org/PDF/CrummyRoads.pdf

You are conflating the sales tax on the purchase of gas as a gas tax that isn't going to roads. But it is not a gas, tax it is sales tax on a sale.

"What we get for our money is what the contracts MDOT writes and what MDOT enforces, who pays the bills decides on what they pay for. The reality is that a contract has more control over results than the employer, MDOT has more leverage over a contractor then they have over any state employee and the work they do."

The MDOT has a budget, within that budget they have to take care of the roads. Maybe their budget is so thin that they have to do with less?
Just like a family budget. I don't know for sure, but I do know that contractors are notorious for skimping and padding Gov't contracts.
Have your read the Detroit Free Press as of late? A month of so back they were telling us of stories about how private contractors were screwing the city by dumping the remains of contaminated dirt and using it for fill in residential areas.
https://www.freep.com/story/news/investigations/2019/02/11/detroit-land-...

Maybe MDOT should have permanent staff with every road builder to make sure that their standards are upheld?

"I/we can’t change history, but we can start today and change the future. Just because you don’t seem want change or aren’t will to try to change simply makes it a bit harder. I can assure you that there are employers in this state that have set standards developed here and taken them to where they build and operate around the world and made those standards work there. I don’t believe the people at MDOT are any less capable then the people working for those employers. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats may put limits on private employers, but there are those [employers] that have learned from the past and develop expectations for themselves and those they contract with."

If these employers are using their standards and operating all over the world, why aren't they insisting on using the same said standards here at home and why don't they insist on the State adopting them? My bet? You don't want to see that bill. And as for being for change, I would like very much for their to be change. But the change that is coming is less roads and worse. Try looking up the tax rates it took to build this infrastructure and then tell me we can keep it all up. Take a 50% pay cut and still live your life the way you do.

"I’m not blaming MDOT, but why aren’t they part of the public conversation, with all their knowledge and expertise why aren’t they involve, as recognized ‘knowledgeable people’ helping the public understand the design, construction, and maintenance needs, why aren’t they trying to help people to make informed choices, why aren’t they sharing their perspectives and listening to our perspectives? Who do you trust, those who are silent and aloof or those who you are working with and listening to you?"

They are part of the conversation. They do have a website. They do have public meetings. And they do seek public comment. Some have written articles on this site. And yes, you are putting the onus all on the MDOT, taking anything off the builder.

"If you think MDOT should deliver better results, then why aren’t we talking about what those results should be, what it takes to achieve them, how do we ensure they are being achieved, and asking MDOT how they would address those same questions?
We can’t ‘hammer on the road makers,’ we have no leverage. The one who writes the checks and what they accept before they write the checks determines what we get from the ‘road makers.’"

So not blaming MDOT yet saying MDOT need to deliver better results. What you are saying is that the road builders build to specifications but are also saying above these same road builders have better specifications but are willing to build below their standards for the states sake. If that is the case, we have bigger problems than just road funding and we need people with morals and standards running Government and business. I for one won't be holding my breath.

duane
Thu, 05/16/2019 - 5:13pm

Middle,
If the roads/bridges could be designed to last longer, why can MDOT do that?
I would be willing to pay more if I had confidence in the quality and longevity of the roads/bridges we’re paying for. People complain when they don’t get the value they were led to expect. To change expectations MDOT should be having structured conversations with the public to learn what they expect from the roads/bridges and then show them what to expect to pay. Currently it is politicians saying give us more money and MDOT simply going along and never talking about what we get for it. If MDOT wants to be trusted they need to start stating expectations [what specifically to expect], the cost for meeting them, and communicating the verification of when or if they don’t meet those expectations why.
I am not talking about how MDOT gets their money, that is the last part of any conversation about roads, it is about what we get for the money MDOT spends. You act as if everyone else inside and outside of government gets all the money they want and only MDOT has to live within a budget. You have suggested before that the ‘road makers’ are not delivery the quality of work expected, how is that controlled by budget limitations? Why can’t MDOT put in specific performance metrics and hold them accountable?
There is no need for a permanent person MDOT person on the contractors staff, what is needed is using well established contract practices and adhering to them. Do you believe private companies; especially those spending MDOT amounts of dollars aren’t monitoring their contractors, do you think they are allowing shoddy work that could cause people to be injured?
My experience is there are contractors and employers that have high standards and adhere to them, but they are selective in who they deal with. They don’t like working with those who don’t appreciate their standards and practices [holding competitors to those standards and not just talking about them]. As for contractor experience, reality is that setting high standards and enforcing the standards does improve performance [safety and environmental], productivity, and quality of work which lowers the cost of the contracts/jobs. A former employer has internal accountability for contractor performance [including such things as safety and environmental] with results rolled up to the Board of Directors independently and as part of the individual operations performance. It was unlikely to cut costs by 50%, but those standards did lower costs by double digit percentages.
As for a conversation, that is not listening to three minutes of someone telling their complaints. A conversation is talking about an idea and discussing the possibilities, the ramifications, variations and alternatives. A public hearing is seldom more than a one sided presentations. What the engineers should be having with each other when developing projections, designs, etc. is a conversation where they have a give and take. When have you been to a public hearing with MDOT that they said we had similar conversations, or asked about unintended consequences?
What is wrong with asking for better results, isn’t that what you said they should do? Blaming is simply pointing fingers and ranting. Constructive criticism is talking specifically about what can be done and how. I think there are proven means/methods MDOTy could be using and am encouraging them to be talking to the public to find out what they might be. My concern is that we have been so bludgeoned by politicians with the club of ‘MDOT engineers’ and their expertise that that has made those ‘engineers’ feel aloof from the public and unwilling to be part of a conversation with the public. A test of their willingness to be part of a conversation;, are they here asking questions, offering information, looking for different perspectives? MDOT could benefit from a conversation, not about a specific project, but about MDOT, it public image, their principles, administrative practices [project management], their approach to innovations and new technology, those things that the public can learn from and can share in.
The reality is that ‘trust’ is the currency that is needed before giving the state and MDOT more dollars. If the politicians aren’t going to build the public trust, then MDOT should be building trust to have when politicians change.

middle of the mit
Thu, 05/16/2019 - 11:18pm

"If the roads/bridges could be designed to last longer, why can MDOT do that?
I would be willing to pay more if I had confidence in the quality and longevity of the roads/bridges we’re paying for. People complain when they don’t get the value they were led to expect. "

MDOT can design a bridge or road to last a hundred years. Are you willing to put 6 foot concrete beds under all the asphalt that we currently drive on? NO you aren't. You act as though that should be what MDOT should shoot for and what you expect for quality but you don't want to pay the price. You want your Gucci while paying for dollar store.

"To change expectations MDOT should be having structured conversations with the public to learn what they expect from the roads/bridges and then show them what to expect to pay. Currently it is politicians saying give us more money and MDOT simply going along and never talking about what we get for it. If MDOT wants to be trusted they need to start stating expectations [what specifically to expect], the cost for meeting them, and communicating the verification of when or if they don’t meet those expectations why."

Why does MDOT have to do this? Aren't they already busy enough? And again, they do have public meetings. Do you attend them? And isn't this what we pay legislatures to do, explain things to the public? Aren't they the ones with the public's ear?
The public are not experts on building roads, and apparently neither are the MDOT or the road builders. It seems they have taken the American way of doing things today to heart, skimp on the product for more profit. Have you noticed since the market crash that a bag of sugar is no longer 5 pounds but 4 pounds? Did the Government do that?

"I am not talking about how MDOT gets their money, that is the last part of any conversation about roads, it is about what we get for the money MDOT spends. You act as if everyone else inside and outside of government gets all the money they want and only MDOT has to live within a budget. You have suggested before that the ‘road makers’ are not delivery the quality of work expected, how is that controlled by budget limitations? Why can’t MDOT put in specific performance metrics and hold them accountable?"

You act as though MDOT has an unlimited budget, is having sales tax on the sale of gas stolen from them and then can't make specifications that they can't pay road builders to build because they are too stupid to do so or negligent. Why can't MDOT put in specific metrics for performance and hold them accountable? I don't know why. Maybe the MDOT is full of former road builders? Maybe it would be a harmful business environment for road builders. Why doesn't the DEQ start fining polluters of our waters and land instead of allowing the public to take care of their superfund sites? Money talks and average people get to kick rocks.

"There is no need for a permanent person MDOT person on the contractors staff, what is needed is using well established contract practices and adhering to them. Do you believe private companies; especially those spending MDOT amounts of dollars aren’t monitoring their contractors, do you think they are allowing shoddy work that could cause people to be injured?"

You do read the articles on this site don't you? Do I believe that private companies spending MDOT amounts of dollars aren't monitoring their contractors? No, I believe they do. But do I believe they won't allow, not shoddy work, but lesser quality? Yes, I wholeheartedly believe that. Money is the name of the game and if you can squeeze a few hundred here and few hundred there. It is a proven business formula. Look at GM and what they did with the cruise control. How about VW and the emissions scam? And I just pulled those two off the top of my head, what do you think I could do if I took some time to look up things of that nature? Ohh! Boeing!

"My experience is there are contractors and employers that have high standards and adhere to them, but they are selective in who they deal with. They don’t like working with those who don’t appreciate their standards and practices [holding competitors to those standards and not just talking about them]. As for contractor experience, reality is that setting high standards and enforcing the standards does improve performance [safety and environmental], productivity, and quality of work which lowers the cost of the contracts/jobs. A former employer has internal accountability for contractor performance [including such things as safety and environmental] with results rolled up to the Board of Directors independently and as part of the individual operations performance. It was unlikely to cut costs by 50%, but those standards did lower costs by double digit percentages."

I am not saying that every contractor out there is going to gouge or defraud you or give you less than optimal service or product. But Government doesn't do that either. They are simply a middle man, a steward between our tax dollars and the private companies that are contracted to do work on behalf of the people. I used to hear of road warranties when Republicans took over in 2010. Could you tell us where those ideas went and why they weren't implemented?

"As for a conversation, that is not listening to three minutes of someone telling their complaints. A conversation is talking about an idea and discussing the possibilities, the ramifications, variations and alternatives. A public hearing is seldom more than a one sided presentations. What the engineers should be having with each other when developing projections, designs, etc. is a conversation where they have a give and take. When have you been to a public hearing with MDOT that they said we had similar conversations, or asked about unintended consequences?"

So now you want a direct democracy? How are 9 million plus people supposed to have more than a three minute conversation with MDOT and get anything done this century?

"What is wrong with asking for better results, isn’t that what you said they should do? Blaming is simply pointing fingers and ranting. Constructive criticism is talking specifically about what can be done and how. I think there are proven means/methods MDOTy could be using and am encouraging them to be talking to the public to find out what they might be. My concern is that we have been so bludgeoned by politicians with the club of ‘MDOT engineers’ and their expertise that that has made those ‘engineers’ feel aloof from the public and unwilling to be part of a conversation with the public."

There is nothing wrong with asking for better results. If blaming is only pointing fingers why are your fingers only pointing at the State? If you want better you are going to have pay $100 for your Gucci shirt and skip the $4 dollar store shirt. That is not the States fault. That is what private contractors charge for good work. If you want good work you have to pay for it and this State and Country just don't want to pay for it. Don't get me wrong they are continue doing what you are doing, asking for more while paying less. Try that with your cable company.

"The reality is that ‘trust’ is the currency that is needed before giving the state and MDOT more dollars. If the politicians aren’t going to build the public trust, then MDOT should be building trust to have when politicians change."

You and other conservatives don't trust government even when you are running it. Therefore what I said before is true. Get ready for worse roads because conservatives just don't want anything they have to help pay for and others get to use too. And they don't like that private industry drives up the price for government, but they do like those profits.

duane
Fri, 05/17/2019 - 4:37pm

Middle,
Are you sure it is more concrete, could it be better construction methods, additives? Is MDOT limited to the past? Are you open to new ideas? 100 years, no, I doubt the roads canl be the same. I would like to see a chart comparing quality/service life to cost. Could it be that the point of diminishing returns on spending is 50 yrs or maybe it is 20 yrs but that should be a point to start with. Has MDOT looked at that, have they created such a chart; wouldn’t it seem helpful for voters?
You assume a lot about my thinking. I do shop at ‘Dollar Tree’, I have a Trac phone not an iPhone, I get commensurate value. In my career I spent other people’s money and I used the same value approach to that spending. A former employer started with questions of value, means for delivering it, and metrics for validation before money was talked about.
If you want people to listen , want people to give you the opportunity to do and time to do it, you need their trust [personally or contractually (trust provided by the courts)]. Earning and sustaining trust is best done when it is integrated to everyday activities of those seeking trust and those giving trust. I have found that conversations with people having different perspectives helps to open people’s thinking and their creativity, it helps them see possibilities.
You doubt the public has the knowledge and skills to manage a road project, doubt the public knows how to build roads, or doubt that the public has knowledge and skills in other fields that maybe applicable to making better roads?
Without profits companies die [money is the life blood of every organization], profits are controlled by the marketplace. The sugar example, a pound is a pound, a gallon is a gallon [state verified], the size of the container doesn’t change that, so if you know the price you can calculate the cost. As for profits, grocery stores profits are in the 1-3% range, are you suggesting that is too high.
I hope that when you say, “Money talks…”, it isn’t suggesting personal bribes. I resist that stereotype of government people [we saw in Detroit and they were prosecuted]. I believe the people at MDOT are honest and wouldn’t accept illegal moneys.
It is disappointing that you haven’t heard of any companies that have higher standards, are profitable because they use those practices, and they have survived longer then your examples. This shows how our media is focused on failures and ignores successes, so all we know is the disappointments and we never learn from success.
If there is a theme to my comments on the roads is about ‘good’ stewards of taxpayers moneys. It doesn’t matter what the name of an organization, it is about people, what they know, and how they apply it. I think that the state has built a silo around MDOT and they don’t want to open it up to the public, we could learn so much. As for the road warrantees, I recall during the Snyder [Republican] administration, a head of MDOT acknowledge that his office had allow many of those warrants to lapse when they should have been applied. That is just one more example of why MDOT should be working on earning public trust. You may want to blame the Republicans, but I wonder how the project managers overlooked this because it seems other managers had applied them.
It seems a big leap to ‘direct democracy’ and inclusion of 9 million residents [small children and the infirmed] from suggesting a conversation to share perspectives. In reality the public hearings are designed to include all 9 million voices rather than having a conversation. A structured conversation is about sharing ideas, it would be limited to a dozen or so with a facilitator that focuses on the future and excludes emotions from the past.
I am about program/ organization responsibilities and performance accountability, if that makes me a ‘conservative’ so be it. It does not make me a Democrat or Republican.

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/17/2019 - 9:03pm

Duane, you have me wrong.

"Are you sure it is more concrete, could it be better construction methods, additives? Is MDOT limited to the past? Are you open to new ideas? 100 years, no, I doubt the roads canl be the same. I would like to see a chart comparing quality/service life to cost. Could it be that the point of diminishing returns on spending is 50 yrs or maybe it is 20 yrs but that should be a point to start with. Has MDOT looked at that, have they created such a chart; wouldn’t it seem helpful for voters?"

Most of our roads are over 75 years old. Sure some have been redone, but does that count for the fact that most of our bridges are that old too? I have main road of the state that runs through my community. It was paved and redone over 20 years ago. The people of my northern Michigan community can not afford to repave it again, so we patch it. That is what we as a country have been doing for at least 30 years. Fixing main roads and patching the rest. With your attitude, you better get used to it.

"You assume a lot about my thinking. I do shop at ‘Dollar Tree’, I have a Trac phone not an iPhone, I get commensurate value. In my career I spent other people’s money and I used the same value approach to that spending. A former employer started with questions of value, means for delivering it, and metrics for validation before money was talked about."

I assumed nothing of your consumption. I just assumed you were a conservative. I have been visiting this website for a year or so and I saw not much pushback to you and other conservative points of view. But then I saw a few say that this was a lib site. So, some one has to push back. That's me. The reason I brought up the whole dollar store analogy in the first place is to explain something to you. You and other conservatives are complaining about the value you receive for the dollars you spend. And then I said you want Gucci quality for dollars store prices. That is not a personal attack, it is what conservatives want. They don't want to pay for labor, they don't want to pay taxes but they want the best of everything that every town they live in has to offer, yet they aren't running to Kansas for tax breaks.

"If you want people to listen , want people to give you the opportunity to do and time to do it, you need their trust [personally or contractually (trust provided by the courts)]. Earning and sustaining trust is best done when it is integrated to everyday activities of those seeking trust and those giving trust. I have found that conversations with people having different perspectives helps to open people’s thinking and their creativity, it helps them see possibilities."

I only trust people who are worthy of trust. Contracts aren't trustworthy. Are they? Most of the contracts you enter into are "subject to change at anytime without prior notice". Go ahead. Look up the TOU for your faceplant or anyother website you are on or cable company or insurance company or any private company that you enter into a contract with. Ohhh the possibilities with an unregulated market! Imagine that!! Not to mention that banker contracts were held up but UAW contracts had to acclimate. Is that a proper word for it?

"You doubt the public has the knowledge and skills to manage a road project, doubt the public knows how to build roads, or doubt that the public has knowledge and skills in other fields that maybe applicable to making better roads?"

What are you trying to do here? What I meant was, that yes, the public has too many things to do to worry about whether or not they are road builders. This economy and country is built on a division of labor. Are you a marketer? Can you also program my computer and rebuild it? Can you also fix my transmission all while you are trying to raise your family? Do you want a direct democracy or not? I thought that led to mob rule. Do I have to also explain to you what a representative democracy is?

"Without profits companies die [money is the life blood of every organization], profits are controlled by the marketplace. The sugar example, a pound is a pound, a gallon is a gallon [state verified], the size of the container doesn’t change that, so if you know the price you can calculate the cost. As for profits, grocery stores profits are in the 1-3% range, are you suggesting that is too high."

No dude, you aren't getting it. The price of sugar never went down or up. The price we were paying for five pounds we are now paying for four pounds. Do you get it now? YOU ARE GETTING LESS FOR THE SAME PRICE!~

"I hope that when you say, “Money talks…”, it isn’t suggesting personal bribes. I resist that stereotype of government people [we saw in Detroit and they were prosecuted]. I believe the people at MDOT are honest and wouldn’t accept illegal moneys."

Here ya go with your twisting. You think MDOT is bad. Reread your posts. I said that PRIVATE CONTRACTORS WERE SCAMMING THE CITY OF DETROIT. Do you understand the difference or do I have to spell it out slowly for you?

"It is disappointing that you haven’t heard of any companies that have higher standards, are profitable because they use those practices, and they have survived longer then your examples. This shows how our media is focused on failures and ignores successes, so all we know is the disappointments and we never learn from success."

So now you are calling GM, our biggest employer, VW and Boeing failures? I told you if we weren't in the era of Trump and fake news I would take the time and look things up to prove you wrong all day if it took that. But today, you wouldn't accept any of my links. Though if you push that gas tax thing, I will hammer that.

"If there is a theme to my comments on the roads is about ‘good’ stewards of taxpayers moneys. It doesn’t matter what the name of an organization, it is about people, what they know, and how they apply it. I think that the state has built a silo around MDOT and they don’t want to open it up to the public, we could learn so much. As for the road warrantees, I recall during the Snyder [Republican] administration, a head of MDOT acknowledge that his office had allow many of those warrants to lapse when they should have been applied. That is just one more example of why MDOT should be working on earning public trust. You may want to blame the Republicans, but I wonder how the project managers overlooked this because it seems other managers had applied them."

Way to give cover to the Republicans who had control. What other managers? And didn't the State have control over them? Seems you don't even want to take responsibility for Flint and your EM. What responsibility do Republicans have to our State? Apparently none. Since you fault them for nothing, even though they have had control over the State for 12 years under Engler and 8 under Snyder, so for the last 28 years you have been in control for 20 of the last 28 years. Go get em!

"It seems a big leap to ‘direct democracy’ and inclusion of 9 million residents [small children and the infirmed] from suggesting a conversation to share perspectives. In reality the public hearings are designed to include all 9 million voices rather than having a conversation. A structured conversation is about sharing ideas, it would be limited to a dozen or so with a facilitator that focuses on the future and excludes emotions from the past."

Oh, So yeah I forgot the young'ns. Sorry. But the infirm? Don't they have a say too? And now you want to put a meeting between MDOT and 12 or so citizens is good?

Dude, that is what the website is for and what public meetings do.

EXACTLY WHAT YOU JUST DESCRIBED.

duane
Sun, 05/19/2019 - 10:25pm

[1]
Middle,
You have raised many points and I have tried to address them concisely, but it has run long so I broke it into 3 parts, I apologize for the length of my comments.
We should be asking how/why roads/bridges are surviving twice or three times as long as others, and can we apply those lessons to existing and future roads/bridges. Why care about the age of something if we don’t try to use it to benefit from that knowledge? I don’t like doing the same things and always being disappointed with the same results so I ask what we can learn to change results, such as encouraging MDOT to have conversations with the public.
I like push back, I like your push back, it causes me to think, to consider your perspective and think about my perspective. I would like others to engage in this type of push back through conversations. I do encourage push back by asking questions to better understand others perspectives.
I got your point on the dollar stores, and I was trying to show that I walked my talk about value for spending, I don’t expect Gucci on a dollar store budget, and value does work when results are critical. If you believe me to be a ‘conservative’ then I am the exception to your rule, as an example years ago I was responsible for the construction of a multi-level building that involved steel erection and awarded the job to a contractor that used union crews. One of the expectations was that they wear protective gear including ‘steel toed’ shoes. When I observed them not wearing the required gear I shut the job down until they met expectations, they refused to do the work [their push back, delaying a time sensitive project], I gave them the option of use the expect gear per contract or their job terminated and award to a different bidder. They did wear the expected gear, no one was injured on that job [a bit of a surprise to the contractor] and the crew acknowledged it was safe to work that way. My employer supported my actions as that was the expected practice on all projects [even ones in the hundreds of millions]. That job validated my trust in my employer and I built trust/reputation with contractors [they believed my expectations were real and enforced so they practiced them].

duane
Sun, 05/19/2019 - 10:27pm

[2}
Middle,
How do you determine who you trust, everyone has a set of criteria [personal ones] that they use, what is yours? I lean toward trusting people with a touch of hesitancy, that moves to greater trust or distrust which is moved as I work and sharing in conversations with people. I have been in situations where trust was critical and all were strangers, it was the interactions that move the trust ‘meter’. A contract, when mutually agree upon, is made trustworthy by law through the courts. So you may not trust the individual, but a contract can establish ‘trust’ so work can be done. An example of government trust; in my youth, whenever the school board asked for higher taxes it was passed, now the voters aren’t as assured and many resist. The difference was trust in schools doing the best for students, today that trust has been significantly eroded. Similarly, roads and bridges were probably poorer in construction and maintenance [actually used sodium salt in the winters] and yet it wasn’t an emotionally contested issue, the difference was/is trust.
My point with the inclusion of the public is as a group, allowing those with an interest to step forward to share their views, knowledge, perspective, it isn’t about them ‘voting’ when they are in a conversation with government representatives. There are two considerations when engaging the public, MDOT as an example, government’s preoccupation with organizational and personal actions being within accepted norms [every box checked with no deviations] and the public feeling engaged to the point they believe they are respected, being heard. Our representatives could go a long way in demonstrating that but they aren’t, so that leaves it to those that serve us [the public] like MDOT.
Are you suggesting that the sugar package is misrepresenting what is being sold, the price is on the package or shelf [at Meijer price per pound, gallon, ounce, is posted on the shelf]. Do you believe that all packages of each product should always be just one size and forever? Should we only be allowed to buy sugar in 5 pound bags, does that include brown sugar, should milk only be sold in one gallon containers? My point, when does the individual have responsibility for reading the label and judging for themselves? The idea of one size never changing [we use significantly less sugar now then when we were younger and especially when the kids were home] seems like a ‘liberal’ view that the government should make all the decisions for each of us.

duane
Sun, 05/19/2019 - 10:28pm

[3] Middle,
We know there were contractors bribing Detroit council members, but when bribes aren’t the issue then it has to do with what the project manager, inspector, the holder of the contract writing the checks is willing to accept. If MDOT doesn’t apply the warrantee clause in a contract, it has nothing to do with budgeting, it is simply that they didn’t enforce that clause and ‘we’ got screwed. Explain it slowly to me, using the example of a road that is supposed to have a smoothly slope grade to a manhole cover or to existing pavement, if there is a 2” drop rather than a slope and the MDOT representative writes the check, how did the budget prevent them from rejecting the work?
GM’s is a big cultural failure, VW’s ethics is a catastrophic failure, and Boeing’s a gross process failure. I notice you ignored the opportunity to mention successful companies. If all you look only for failure, that is all you will find. I benefit more form others success than their failures.
There is not doubt that Flint has been a fiasco, started by elected officials [Democrats] creating the financial failure that brought in the inadequately prepared people who exacerbating things. It seems neither Party has a corner on stupid actions and selfish/lazy people.
Have you ever been to the ‘public’ hearings, they are where a person makes a statement, the representative asks a questions, there is no conversation, there is not interaction addressing ideas, there is not give and take, it is only each speaking for the public record. In a conversation among ‘engineers’ there is sketching, modifications considered, experiences talked about, and such. Does MDOT use a Critical Path Map or PERT diagram for every project why and why not those are the things conversations involve not simply someone standing up and pronouncing what MDOT should do and what MDOT won’t do. A structure conversation is a tool for learning and improving not a forum for taking of positions. A former employer had the practice of meeting with peer companies to ‘benchmark’ practices/methods to common problems; it was a sharing of how each company approached various questions, such as contractor performance. The purpose was to learn different perspectives and asked ourselves how such an approach could be included in our culture/practices. For me it is much like this conversation, it doesn’t necessarily change either’s thinking, but for me to pause to consider what you offer then think about how I articulate my perspective.
As for the Flint failure, it is obvious that the no one in the Snyder administration, in the government agencies understood how what happened in Flint and how it should have triggered a response similar to how MDOT would response to a Minneapolis type bridge failure, and no one in the Whitmer Administration has a clue that the PFAS response should also be treated like a bridge failure. If there is a catastrophic even such as bridge failure on the Interstate, if there is a catastrophic chemical release or a fire at a State of Michigan facility there would be an emergency response team brought together to manage the even and determine how to prevent a reoccurrence, made up of knowledgeable people on he types of materials and processes involved in the event. It isn’t in their thinking that an emergency event is an emergency event and has a common flow of events and should be responded to in a way proven by successful response to other emergencies. I offer this as an example of how a conversation offers different perspectives that can help others look differently at the problems they face.
It seems this has been one of your longer conversations on Bridge, I appreciate your thoughts [they have caused me to think], your persistence [it has kept me focused], and your patience [reading my comments makes me think more about what I am saying and how I say it].

Res ipsa loquitur
Mon, 05/20/2019 - 10:12am

The poor condition of Michigan roads, and to a lesser extent its bridges is a result of deferred maintenance and built in obsolescence like the automobiles that ride on and across them.