The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 07, 2011

Road funding, repairs to get renewed attention

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to tell us about his plans for repairing the state’s crumbling infrastructure in an address on Oct. 24.

In anticipation of that speech, two state lawmakers last month released a report Sept. 19 that said the state will need to immediately more than double its annual commitment to state road repairs – to $2.7 billion per year – in order to have minimum funding for decent roads.

State Reps. Rick Olson (R-Saline) and Roy Schmidt (D-Grand Rapids), who both sit on the House Transportation Committee, led off their summary with the following statement: “Many of Michigan’s roads and bridges are in bad shape, with crumbling bridges and potholed roads all too familiar to most Michigan’s motorists. Unless additional funding is available to maintain our roads, they are projected to get much worse.”

They said their report, titled Michigan’s Roads Crisis: What Will It Cost to Maintain Our Roads and Bridges? was a “rigorous attempt” to prove or disprove the findings of a 2008 study by the bipartisan Transportation Funding Task Force – which included representatives from numerous sectors of industries related to transportation, including unions. The task force’s recommendations were never implemented, but it called for Michigan to spend $3 billion more revenue per year to achieve a “good” standard for its roads.

The lawmakers’ model projected that almost $1.4 billion dollars more revenue per year – on top of the current spending level of $1.3 billion – would be needed in 2012-2015. That amount would need to nearly double again to almost $2.6 billion per year by 2023 to achieve the modest goals they set. “This would not result in a gold-plated road system, as many of the roads in fair condition would be just that – fair –  and not good,” the lawmakers said.

They said they hope their new report on the Michigan’s transportation infrastructure will result in legislative action to help fix the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. The report cited 2010 state documents which show Michigan has 35 percent of its roads in poor condition, 47 percent in fair condition, and 18 percent in good condition.

State road work is paid for through a 19 cents-per-gallon state gas tax and the 18 cents-per-gallon federal tax. Michigan last raised its gas tax from 15 cents to 19 cents in 1997. Raising the gasoline tax is seemingly the most direct way to pay for improvements, but the state has been unable to come up with the political will to do so.

Indeed, a Sept. 20 report by the Gongwer news agency echoed what Gov. Snyder and Republican lawmakers have been saying: “There will not be an increase in the gasoline tax to generate more money for road construction.” More likely, Gongwer said, would be an increase in vehicle registration fees.

“This fall,” says the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, “presents a huge opportunity for the heavy construction industry. In October, Gov. Snyder is scheduled to deliver an infrastructure message that will include plans for increased infrastructure investment.

“MITA is launching a major public relations effort in support of the governor’s October infrastructure message: ‘Let’s Make Michigan Great Again.’ Our goal is to encourage legislators in key districts to support a historic funding boost for infrastructure before the end of 2011 and prior to the kickoff of the 2012 election campaigns.”