The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 23, 2004

State decides it is better to receive than to give away federal highway money

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING - Michigan needs to spend an additional $700 million a year on its highway system to improve road and bridge conditions, expand key routes to relieve traffic congestion and improve critical highway links to support economic growth, according to a report released this month by a national nonprofit transportation research group.

The problem is, Michigan expects to spend $34 billion on major roads, highway and bridges between 2003 and 2025 under current state and federal revenue projections, while the estimated need during this time period is $50 billion.

A report by the Road Information Program (TRIP) said Michigan has historically been a "donor" state for transportation funding, sending more money to Washington than it receives back to pay for roads and bridges in other states. The state currently ranks 47th in the nation in terms of rate of return for highway funding, getting back 88 cents for every dollar contributed.

"It's crucial that Michigan's members of Congress bring back more money for Michigan," said Rich Studley, vice president of government affairs, Michigan Chamber of Commerce. "Michigan is losing millions of dollars for every month that goes by without a long-term federal transportation bill in place. Our message to them is simple: Don't come home without a long-term bill with greater equity for donor states, and get the job done by February 29."

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) - a key source of transportation funding - expires Feb. 29, 2004. Proposals for a new six-year federal surface transportation program range from a small increase in funding to increases for Michigan of more than 50 percent per year.

In 2002, approximately 17 percent of Michigan's major roads were rated in poor condition and are in need of resurfacing or reconstruction. In contrast, 12 percent of the nation's major roads are in poor condition. The percentage of major roads in Michigan that are in poor condition is 42 percent higher than percentages of major roads nationally that are in poor condition.

Additional vehicle operating costs borne by Michigan motorists as a result of poor road conditions is $2.2 billion annually, or $318 per motorist.

The Michigan Transportation Team (MTT) is a coalition of more than 70 public and private organizations fighting to strengthen Michigan's transportation infrastructure through lobbying and getting the word out.

"For every $100 million invested in road and bridge construction, 4,200 jobs are created," said John Hamilton, business manager of Operating Engineers Local 324 and MTT co-chair. "Michigan's members of Congress need to fight for more funding because Michigan badly needs the jobs created by highway and bridge construction. I can't think of a better way to help an ailing economy than by creating jobs and improving our nation's transportation system."