Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 17, 2013

Forum: Growth takes toll on county’s roads

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — By Carl Brown

Grand Traverse County is a beautiful place to live, work and play. Its high quality of life draws many to live here and lures thousands of year-round visitors. Continued growth in the County is not expected to stop soon. This growth has taken its toll on our infrastructure and the quality of our road system is suffering. It’s no secret that driving around the County can be a bumpy ride.

Grand Traverse County Road Commission maintains over 1,000 miles of primary and local roads. Currently, only 20% of our roads are considered in “good” condition.

Why have are our roads deteriorated to this point? Simply, not enough money is available to repair and maintain our infrastructure system. Identified repair and improvement requirements for county roads exceed revenues available from current funding sources. Increasing County road ratings from 20% “good” to 80% “good” would cost a whopping $100 million.

People ask, “I pay property taxes, why not fix the roads?” No local property tax monies are used on County roads. Michigan’s county roads are funded through the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF). The MTF divides approximately 6¢/gallon of gasoline purchased in Michigan among its 83 county road agencies. The legislature has approved only one increase in the gas tax since 1984, an increase of 4¢ in 1997. No increase in state funding is on the horizon.

Since 1997, costs to maintain and improve county roads have risen continuously. The cost for diesel fuel in 1997 was 63¢/gallon; today, $3.36. During this time, materials such as road salt and asphalt have risen as much as 69%. We have struggled to maintain services and provide limited repair and improvement to our county roads.

The Road Commission has improved efficiencies through equipment and technology upgrades, and major staffing adjustments; yet, repair and improvement costs to county roads exceed available resources.

On Grand Traverse County’s November 5 ballot is a proposed increase of 1 mil/year for three years to repair and improve local streets, roads, highways and bridges. The increase would provide $4.4 million annually. Portions of the funding will also go to the City of Traverse City and villages in the County for road repair and improvement projects. The cost to taxpayers is $100 per $100,000 in taxable value per year.

We adopted an Asset Management Plan (AMP) that systematically assesses roads and identifies sections needing improvement. Using the AMP allows us to make transportation network decisions with the best information available. AMP enables good stewardship, transparent decision processes and measurable performance. It will guide our future expenditure of funds, including millage funds. The initial focus is on corridor projects addressing safety and traffic volumes in multiple townships.

Our board and staff will prioritize projects based on road ratings, safety, traffic volumes and function, producing an annual list of published projects. The current $3.9 million list includes work in 10 of 13 townships, covering 37.6 miles of roadway.

Please call us at 231-922-4848 or visit for more information and the 2014 proposed project list.

About the author: Carl Brown is Chair of the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. Brown is a life-long resident of Grand Traverse County. His educational background is in business. Brown’s employment history spans over 40 years and includes road construction, residential/commercial building and retail sales.