'How do we pay for Michigan’s crumbling roads?'
This was the $1.4-billion question posed by elected officials Monday during a town hall meeting with Macomb County residents.
Sponsored by state Reps. Anthony Forlini (R-Harrison Township) and Marilyn Lane (D-Fraser), a public forum at the Macomb Intermediate School District brought concerned residents and local officials together to discuss the state of Macomb County’s roads and consider possible sources of funding for repairs, maintenance and future projects.
With Gov. Rick Snyder calling for an additional $1.4 billion a year to be set aside for the repair and maintenance of the state’s crumbling roads and bridges, it has fallen to Michigan legislators to develop plans that would raise this necessary revenue.
While multiple proposals have been introduced in Lansing, two of the leading plans involve an increase of both the state gas tax and passenger vehicle registration fees.
When introduced to residents at Monday's meeting, neither proposal was met with overwhelming support.
“When you start thinking about how you are going to fund (roads), keep in mind the middle class and those less fortunate in this state, because what is $10 to one person is $1,000 to another and some of us don’t have money jingling around in our pockets that we can pay a little more for gas, or our vehicle registration,” said St. Clair Shores resident Darcy Livingston. “For some people it’s not that simple.”
Under the current proposals, an estimated $541 million would be raised annually by increasing the gas tax from 19 cents a gallon to 28.3 cents a gallon (15 cents on diesel), and another $600 million a year from raising vehicle registration fees by 67 percent, roughly a $60 increase per car. A second House bill would allow counties to raise these fees even further.
Ray Township resident Brian Schember said while he is not a fan of such increases, he is willing to pay for results.
“I’ll tell you which pocket to take it out of, but let’s get it done,” he said.
For 2012, Macomb County received just under $35 million from the Michigan Transportation Fund, the primary collection and distribution fund for transportation monies. Macomb County Director of Roads Bob Hoepfner said he expects another decrease in funding next year but will hope for at least $30 million.
Moving forward on this funding issue, residents and elected officials will have to decide whether the solution lies with tax increases, or reorganization of the entire process.
At present, various programs and departments, including the School Aid Fund, are supported by gas tax collections. Should the money collected in gas taxes be used entirely for roads? This would require a change in Michigan’s constitution.
By the same token, road monies collected in Macomb County are not kept in the county, but sent to the state for distribution. Should money raised for roads in Macomb County stay in Macomb County? This would require an amendment to Public Act 51.
Other topics addressed during the meeting included:
How are road repairs prioritized?
On the county level, the Department of Roads conducts asset management reviews on half the roads in the county every two years. During these reviews, department employees drive half the roads in the county and rate them.
These ratings reveal which roads need the most attention and allow the department to determine the type of repairs required.
At the state level, the Michigan Department of Transportation conducts its own asset management reviews and practices “progressive maintenance all the time to try to protect the investment,” said Drew Buckner, MDOT manager of the Macomb Transportation Center.
“We try to prevent the roads from totally deteriorating. We look at their remaining surface life and try to fix the worst roads first. But we have limited resources," he added.
From 2004-2010, the percentage of lanes per mile considered “poor,” on a scale of good, fair and poor, increased significantly throughout the state.
Why are relatively new roads crumbling?
Civil engineer and vice-chair of Businesses for Better Transportation, Roy Rose, said the problem is most likely a chemical reaction known as alkali silica reaction, or ASR.
In simple terms, the problem can be traced to the formula used for cement during the 80s. A chemical reaction between elements of this mixture are now known to cause expansion and cracking in concrete. The formula was only corrected when the issue become apparent in the 90s, meaning some relatively new roads are deteriorating faster than older roads built with a different cement formula.
What’s taking so long to pave my dirt or gravel road?
“The truth behind it is the participation of local communities,” said Bob Hoepfner, director of the Macomb County Department of Roads.
In the case of a mile road that stretches between three or four communities, the county will cover a portion of the paving or widening cost, but each community must cover the cost of its own segment.
What one resident referred to as a “lack of focus” on the county’s part–meaning a project started on two ends but left unfinished in the middle–Hoepfner said is typically the refusal or inability of a city or township to pay for its part of a project.
Macomb Township residents will see this process in action shortly, as Macomb’s local government will be asked to consider a $5 million paving proposal from the Department of Roads for 24 Mile Road between Romeo Plank and Fairchild.