Rough Roads: Road work funding in Michigan - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Rough Roads: Road work funding in Michigan

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(04/28/14) - Potholes - we all dodge them, and it's safe to say we all hate them.

It's been a tough winter and it's taking quite a toll.

A lack of road repair funding and slim construction budgets may mean a fix won't happen anytime soon.

So, lets put more money in those budgets, right? But, where does that money come from?

ABC12's Terry Camp is getting to the bottom of that question.

"Awful, it is awful," said Carol Hewitt, owner of My Bar.

That pretty much sums up the state of roads across the state. After the long, cold winter, they are buckling and cracking up.

"The frost went very deep," said Jim Lillo, Engineer-Manager of the Bay County Road Commission.

Case in point - Old Kawkawlin Road in Bay County.

"It's been getting bad the last few years, this year was like a washboard, all winter," Hewitt said.

The last time any major work was done on this stretch of the road was 1992 - 22 years ago.

"This is high traveled road, it gets lot of commercial traffic, it is one that has been on the list for awhile," Lillo said. 

Lillo would like to reconstruct a three and a half mile stretch of Old Kawkawlin, but he can't.

"Lack of funding," he said.

Similar scenarios are playing out all over Michigan along roads that need repair or rebuilding. Saginaw County's road commission would love to tackle Dixie Highway near Frankenmuth.

"That road has pretty much served its life," said Joe W, of the Saginaw County Road Commission.

He says 10 to 11 miles of that roadway need to be reconstructed.

"To do the entire stretch of Dixie Highway, probably $35 million is needed for that. We have an annual operating budget for maintenance, construction, everything, of under $13 million," he said.

"If I had a clock that I could freeze time with, if we could work on the roads, but not have any time elapse, my road crews could work for 12 years on the current problems, without addressing anything new that is going to occur," said John Daly, director of the Genesee County Road Commission.

County road commissions are pretty much operating on budgets that are frozen in time. Primary funding comes from gasoline taxes and registration and license fees.

"We are just not putting enough money into roads," Daly said.

Daly says the funding mechanism has to change with the times. Fuel efficient vehicles might be good for family budgets and the environment, but if people buy less gas, fewer tax dollars are collected for the roads.

"I'm an advocate for charging hybrids and all electrics a highway service fee that brings them into parity with what the gasoline and diesel operators are paying for fuel taxes," Daly said.

State Representative Tim Kelly says Lansing is already looking at overhauling the system that funds road repairs and construction. The tax policy committee he sits on will begin talks this week about changing the way vehicle fuel is taxed - a move that could raise $500 million. That's short term, but in the long term, more changes will be needed.

"We need to start the discussion," Kelly said. "We are using less and less gasoline, we are building cars that use less, we are driving less, so we have to rely on a different taxation system than just user fees alone."

In the meantime, the roads continue to deteriorate.

Lillo says the Old Kawkawlin Road project would take up half of his annual budget. Even if there is an increase in road funding soon, drivers won't enjoy a smoother ride for years.

"We are probably looking 2020," he said.

That's not what Hewitt wants to hear. Her family has owned My Bar for about 40 years. That gives her some perspective on how the quality of roads affects Michigan's economy - everything from manufacturing to tourism.

"It doesn't bring tourists here if your roads are not good," she said.

Gov. Snyder proposed a $1.2 billion boost to help with road construction three years ago in the form of fuel tax and registration fee hikes three years ago, but it never came up for a vote in the legislature.

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