It's no secret that Michigan's roads and highways are in need of repairs. But a recent report containing alarming information about the extent of road damage and the inadequacy of Michigan's road funding is bringing attention to new ideas for fixing Michigan's roads.
Last month, a report by the state House Transportation Committee concluded that over one-third of Michigan roads are in poor condition, while only 18% are considered to be in good condition. To reach a goal of 95% of freeways and 85% of all other roads in good or fair condition, the report calls for drastic increases in funding: an additional $1.4 billion for the next four years, and eventually an added $2.6 billion in 2023. To put this in perspective, a $1.4 billion increase would almost double the current road budget. The report also grimly projects that even if Michigan continues to meet the funding requirements necessary for matching federal aid, road conditions will decline greatly.. Just meeting the baseline requirement to receive federal funding has proven difficult for Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a bill to shift $12 million in funding from a special fund for development-related road projects to general road improvents in order to match the federal funds available and prevent the loss of $700 million. Additionally, Snyder claims that the controversial Detroit-Windsor bridge will allow Michigan to obtain more federal funding for road projects if approved.
But federal funds are not the only concern. Michigan's city, village, township and county roads rely primarily on funds distributed from the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) to pay for road repair and maintenance. Road commissions established at the county and municipality level determine how that funding is spent, but they do not have the authority to levy taxes. The MTF relies almost entirely on a 19 cent per gallon gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees, and in recent years these sources have not provided sufficient funds. The gasoline tax in particular has brought in less revenue in recent years, a development that has been attributed to increased fuel efficiency of cars and cutbacks on driving due to the recession. Some counties have turned to millages as a way to be less dependent on MTF money.
With these funding struggles threatening the future of Michigan's infrastructure and economy, government officials are contemplating new ways to bring in revenue. One state representative has suggested designating a portion of money collected from the 6% sales tax on gasoline to road repair and construction. Another proposal calls for increasing the general sales tax by 1% and repealing the state taxes on gas and diesel fuel in return, thus freeing road funding from being connected to gas sales. Other politicians are looking into the feasibility of a plan to tax drivers by the mile instead of by the gallon by using cell phones or GPS devices for calculations. Proponents of this system say it would allow funding to be distributed to roads based on how much traffic they receive. Governor Snyder is expected to release his transportation plan in the coming weeks, and he is expected to try to privatize road maintenance. And a Wayne County official wants to create a general fund for local governments to contribute to in order to match federal funds without dealing with the politics of the state legislature.
While the decaying roads of Michigan are costing the state, there are some ways to benefit from them. The Michigan Transportation Team is offering a $500 prize to the person who submits the "best" photo of a road in poor condition to the group's iPhone app. It's a clever way to increase awareness of Michigan's infrastructure woes, but one that hopefully won't grow into an annual tradition.
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