Chances are, most Michigan drivers curse about the poor condition of the roads every time they drive to and from work, the grocery store, and perhaps even to another house in the neighborhood. It has become common to just accept the condition of the roads and remind each other that with the snow fall, and salting, our roads simply can not ever be in good condition. The sad truth of it is that without a major increase to the transportation budget, it will be difficult for the average Michigander to notice any difference in the quality of the roads. At some point, something is going to have to give. Either the deterioration of the roads will get to the point that the states economy suffers as it scares away business, and destroys cars or the Michigan government will have to find a new source of revenue to pay and fix the roads.. There are a few proposals on the table to try to raise this money. One of these proposals, House Bill 4961 advocates for a variety of things, but most importantly the introduction of tolls to some Michigan highways. Representative Lee Gonzales, a Democrat from Flint introduced the bill, understanding that adding toll roads to Michigan was a satisfactory attempt to fix this huge problem. In the bill, Gonzales notes that Michigan technically already has three toll roads, The Mackinaw Bridge, The Sault Saint Marie International Bridge, and The Blue Water Bridge. These three bridges are owned by the State and the state and its contractors are in control of their operations and benefit from the revenue of these bridges. Gonzales also points out that this proposal would not necessarily convert entire stretches of highway to toll roads, perhaps only certain express lanes or high traffic rush hour lanes.
This proposal is an important step for the future of Michigan's roads. As a state based so heavily on the use of cars and trucks, it is important that the roads be taken care of, but it has become obvious that the state cannot sustain a decent quality of roads with the current budget situation. There are a few problems with Gonzales' proposal, though. If only certain lanes will become toll roads, these lanes may receive preferential treatment when the state is choosing new construction projects. This makes sense in that if people are paying to use these premium roads, they deserve a higher quality driving experience. On the other hand, is there enough revenue to be generated by these partial toll roads to increase the quality of the toll lanes and still give enough money to the transportation department general fund to fund other construction projects? There is no projection about the revenue that would be generated from any toll project, as at this point it is still unknown what roads would become toll roads. According to a study by the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation Funding, Michigan has been in the bottom ten of states spending on roads per capita. They argue that for Michigan to improve their roads to a decent quality, they would have to double the current 3.2 billion dollar a year budget. A partial toll road would not seem to gain any substantial portion of a 3.2 billion dollar budget shortfall.
The State does have other options. It could just decide to make the entire lengths of Interstates 69, 75, 94 and 96 complete toll roads throughout the state. This would be unpopular but it would generate a substantial amount of revenue, and would not be particularly different from what any other states do. Another proposal floated around has called for a one dollar per gallon of gas tax increase. This proposal does not seem to have gained much ground, as people are afraid of unpredictable jumps in gas prices that could make gas unaffordable for many Michiganders. In the end, there probably is no single solution to Michigan's crumbling roads, but public attention and displeasure is growing and something will need to be done soon.