Worst Could Be Coming for Potholes

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Worst Could Be Coming for Potholes

By FOX 47 News. CREATED Apr 25, 2014

One of every two local roads in Michigan is rated poor, according to the Transportation Asset Management Council, and 71 percent of all roads are rated fair or below.

That was no surprise for the collection of road commissions and transportation officials at the 2014 State of the Roads address Thursday.

"If you drive, you already know the state of Michigan's roads," said Denise Donohue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan. "You can't get five people together at the water cooler or a family party that somebody hasn't had a flat tire, a bent wheel, a bent rim, a broken wheel, a front alignment problem. There are people out there not buying cars because of Michigan roads and that's not good for Michigan's economy."

Others painted a similarly negative picture of a state they say is last in per capita road funding, and in desperate need of aid.

"This has been decades in the making," said Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. "This is what it looks like when you neglect a core asset of the state. We've delayed, delayed, delayed, and now it's costing us more."

But it may just be the tip of the iceberg. The County Road Association says it will take more than two billion dollars to fix the roads.

That just may be to stop the bleeding on a transportation budget the association says has been neglected for far too long.

"The time is now to fix Michigan roads," said Bradley Lamberg, president of the County Road Association. "Good roads cost a lot of money but the cost of doing nothing is even higher."

The cost could just be growing for the future. Two federal issues could stand in the way of further fixings to the roads.

The U.S. Highway Trust Fund is expected to become insolvent -- paying out more money than it takes in -- at the end of the summer. That means projects that take federal aid won't be reimbursed in full right away. In other words, instead of getting a dollar back for every dollar spent, the reality could be 80 cents on the dollar, Steudle said, which could further strap local budgets

"Here in Ingham County we have a large number of federal aid projects," said Bill Conklin, managing director of the Ingham County Road Department. "We're concerned as to whether those will be fully funded."

More trouble could be coming in October, when a surface transportation bill expires.

"With no surface transportation bill, what that means is all the money you pay at the pump at the federal level doesn't come back to Michigan or any state," said Steudle. "It stays in Washington."

Steudle says all lawmakers he's spoken to have indicated Congress will pass an extension, but inaction makes him nervous.

"We have to take this into our own hands," he said. "If we want our road system to be better, we are going to have to pay for it."

Transportation officials are pushing for action from the state legislature. A $500 million package of house bills, are a good start, Steudle said, but not nearly enough in the long run.

"We need the legislature to do something to funding a sustainable, holistic solution for funding Michigan roads," said Denise Donohue. "We call on the legislature to end the decline in Michigan, the call for a speedy passage of a solution that fully addresses our problems."

The bills also rework the taxes on gas, opting for a wholesale tax over a per-gallon tax. An increase in the gas tax is needed, Donohue said, after a decade of recession and more fuel efficient vehicles -- both of which result in less gas tax collected. Plus, Donohue said, the state's last gas tax increase was 1997.

The Michigan Petroleum Association though says it would rather see the tax money that is already collected be redistributed. President Mark Griffin says the industry is already taxed enough, noting that Michigan has the sixth highest gas tax in the country. An increase would almost certainly make it the highest he said.

Public Safety officials and business owners are also complaining about the road conditions. The Ingham County Sheriff's Office testified that bad roads slow down police and fire responses. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce added bad roads are bad for business.

"If we invest wisely in roads and bridges and public transit, we could create 10,000 jobs in our state at a time when people need and want to go back to work," said Rich Studley, CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. "We also understand as job providers, you get what you pay for. Or in the case of local roads, you get what you don't pay for."