Group urges raising more money to fix Mich. roads

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2009 4:56 PM

One-third of Michigan roads were in poor condition in 2008, a percentage that could climb dramatically in coming years if lawmakers don't pump more money into transportation, road advocates said Monday.

The Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association put out a list of cities and counties with the largest amount of bad roads. Detroit led the list, followed by Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

Wayne and Oakland counties had the most miles of federally funded roads in poor condition, although their actual percentage of bad roads was in the middle of the pack at around 25 percent.

Oceana, Osceola and Calhoun counties had the largest percentage of roads in poor condition, all topping 50 percent. Genesee County had the third-largest number of miles of bad roads and the ninth-highest percentage, 45 percent.

"Michigan's local road systems are collapsing because funding continues to plummet," MITA lobbyist Mike Nystrom said in a statement. "This isn't a case of road agencies not doing their jobs."

The findings were based on the Michigan Asset Management Council Annual Report of Roads and Bridges. The council was created by lawmakers after a transportation funding report in 2000.

According to MITA's report, 25 percent of federally funded roads were in poor condition in 2007, rising to 32 percent in 2008. About a third of Michigan's 287,780 miles of roads are federally funded.

The Michigan Department of Transportation agrees the percentage of the state's roads in good condition peaked in 2007 and has been declining since then. Road quality could hit an even bigger pothole in fiscal 2010-11, when the state is likely to lose up to $576 million in federal highway funds because it won't have the $102 million it needs to nab the matching funds.

If that happens, Michigan will go from spending more than $1.2 billion annually on highways to around $500 million next year and in following years, shoving road projects and the jobs that go with them off the drawing board.

"Many (motorists) are driving less and buying more fuel efficient vehicles and hybrids, leading to a $100 million decrease in gas tax revenue over the past five years, and this trend is expected to continue," MDOT notes in its 2008-2013 transportation report.

Making the problem even worse is the rising cost of raw materials such as asphalt and steel, and the increasing need as Michigan's roads and bridges grow older, requiring more work.

A Transportation Funding Task Force that Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed in 2008 has suggested converting the state's 19-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax to a tax on the wholesale price of gas and raising vehicle registration fees to eventually raise more money for roads. Others have suggested raising the gasoline tax over three years to 28 cents per gallon.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, has introduced a bill to raise the state tax on diesel fuel by 4 cents to 19 cents per gallon. But he acknowledges more needs to be done.

Between "the falloff (in revenue) and not being able to make the federal match, we've got to do something," he said Monday.

He was asked by legislative leaders not to bring up bills that would raise more road funding until the current budget was passed, a process that lasted until the end of October and is still dragging out over spending for public schools.

Gilbert would like to find and pass a solution in December. But when breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas are counted in, "there's not a lot of days left, really," he notes.

Road advocates are growing impatient with the lack of action.

"Our legislative leaders need to stop `watching' the funding problem evolve into a crisis and take appropriate action to correct it," Nystrom said.