The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 09, 2014

State on course for moving more road repair money

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – State Republicans have put forth a plan to spend an additional minimum of $500 million annually to repair and maintain the state’s roads and bridges. It’s only a portion of the full amount needed to get to roads that will be in long-term “good” condition – MDOT says at least $1.2 billion and as much as $2 billion a year more in spending is needed – but it’s a pretty good start.

More road and bridge repair funding was the center of a Republican plan issued April 3, and a state House Transportation Committee hearing on April 30. The plan would hike road funding by $500 million annually, using “current resources” according to the GOP.

The release of the plan is an about-face for Michigan Republicans from earlier this year, whose caucus leaders said they were more interested in providing (election year) tax breaks for Michigan taxpayers than in fixing the roads. Then, pothole season came, and the attitude changed.

“After our roads had been neglected for too many years, we have led the way with one-time investments in roads for each of the past three years; now it’s time to make structural changes that will continue and build upon that trend,” said Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger. “This proposal does not provide the full $1.2 billion needed annually to stay on top of Michigan’s road needs but it is a great start for funding and an even better foundation for further improvement.”

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he and others support raising revenue for roads, beyond the $500 million level proposed by the House.

With thousands of building trades jobs at stake, Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Legislative Director Patrick “Shorty” Gleason expressed support for the additional funding before the Transportation Committee, and called for a bipartisan plan.

“Playing catch up with road repairs and getting back to normal is vital to our road workers, who have been personally devastated financially over the past few years,” Gleason said. “The lack of commitment to our roads has had a horrible effect on not only our highways and bridges, but on the lives of people who count on the work to maintain them.”

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle has for the past few years championed the need for more revenue. “We’ve deferred so much maintenance we can’t wait any more,” he said earlier this year.

“The prevailing opinion,” said MIRS News Service, “seems to be that one way or another something will get done on transportation before lawmakers leave for summer break.”

But where the money will come from is still very much in question. Some $369 million of the money would come from a shift of sales tax and use tax revenue to transportation, which basically takes money from various parts of the state’s budget and shifts it to road work. Proposals also call for raising fees on overweight trucks, changing the state’s collection system from a flat gas tax to a percentage-based gas tax, and building toll booths. Other proposals are calling for better MDOT road work warranties, and requiring MDOT to more efficiently bid projects for entire regions.

In February, The Detroit News revealed that Michigan by far spends the least per capita among the states on road work – $154 per person, about half the national average. We’re so bad that No. 49 is Colorado, and their per-capita spending is $201 – 30 percent higher.

“We are now in a situation today where our state – the state that put America on wheels – is viewed as having the worst roads in America,” said Michigan Chamber President & CEO Rich Studley, a staunch supporter of greater road funding. “That is unacceptable.”