By Rick Haglund/Bridge Magazine correspondent
While Michigan’s roads and bridges crumble, lawmakers in Lansing dither.
“Our infrastructure is in terrible shape,” said Michael Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, a trade group.
“There is a unanimous recognition of the need among elected officials,” he added. “But no one can really figure out where we go in finding solutions.”
Michigan has the second-worst roads and bridges in the nation, second only to Pennsylvania, according to the most recent data available and compiled for the 2012 Michigan Scorecard.
Thirty-seven percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition and 30 percent of Michigan’s bridges are structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Keeping transportation funding at current levels would result in 65 percent of the state’s roads falling into poor condition by 2018, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Michigan’ transportation infrastructure was given a “poor” rating this year by the scorecard, which also graded infrastructure as “poor” in 2010 and 2008.
A statewide survey released in March by the Michigan Environmental Council found that 87 percent of Michigan residents think the state’s roads are in fair or poor condition. Sixty-four percent of those polled said they would pay more to fix and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.
In a special message on infrastructure last fall, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed spending an additional $1.4 billion a year to fix roads and bridges.
“Michigan’s infrastructure is living on borrowed time,” he said. “We must reinvest in it if we are to successfully reinvent our economy.”
Snyder proposed raising the additional money by replacing the state’s 19-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax with a wholesale tax on fuel and raising the vehicle registration fee by $120 a year.
Although bills have been introduced to do just that, they are going nowhere in a Republican-controlled Legislature loathe to raise taxes.
Some critics of the funding plan, including the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, say the state should first reprioritize funding, such as eliminating subsidies for city bus systems.
But the politically powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which generally opposes tax increases, supports Snyder’s plan.
“The quality of a state’s transportation system has a major impact on economic growth and Michiganmust make the smart investments to reinvent Michigan,” Chamber President Rich Studley said last fall. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
But Nystrom said he doesn’t see any action happening this year because of the November election to select a new House of Representatives. Raising taxes in an election year is all but unthinkable.
Lawmakers also dealt Snyder a blow last year when they refused to approve a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor. Canada had offered to pay for Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge cost, which Snyder said could be used as Michigan’s match for additional federal highway funding.
Nystrom said the introduction of funding bills in the Legislature is at least a start toward addressing the state’s needs for repairing roads and bridges.
“Some momentum is building,” he said. “The leadership knows something needs to be done. The introduction of bills opens dialogue and debate.”
Rick Haglund has had a distinguished career covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers he wrote a statewide business column and was one of only three such columnists in Michigan. He also covered the auto industry and Michigan’s economy extensively.