Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 7, 2013

Forum: Transportation funding and need

By Lee A. Bowen
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — With spring finally upon us, memories of the long winter are fading. But the even longer pothole season is still with us. It’s a good time to discuss the condition and funding of our roads.

Before anyone discusses increasing revenue, it is important for agencies receiving the revenue to demonstrate their need as well as ensure existing revenue is being used efficiently. As Chairman of TC-TALUS, which is comprised of governmental agencies working cooperatively on transportation planning issues, and Chairman of the Leelanau County Road Commission, I believe it is important to share my views on funding.

The need to increase state road revenue should be evident as motorists rattle over and dodge potholes. However, when the pothole patching crews catch up, will we forget what the roads were like?

The facts say the condition of Michigan’s roads is not all that good; in fact, the miles of roads currently rated in “good” or “fair” condition are decreasing while the miles of “poor” condition roads are increasing. Like any other investment, such as a house or automobile, maintenance can be deferred; but the price of the ultimate remedy goes up as time passes.

Michigan’s road agencies have stretched their budgets about as far as they can be stretched. Personnel levels are much lower than they have been in years. Much of the equipment has been pushed beyond its normal life cycle. And all the while the agencies have had to absorb the increased costs of petroleum-related material (diesel fuel and asphalt). This is no different than all of us have had to deal with in our day-to-day lives.

As for increasing funding for Michigan’s roads, you have probably heard of the many proposals made over the past years. Currently, Gov. Snyder and legislators are discussing various methods of increasing state revenue for our roads. I encourage everyone to let their legislators know road funding is a critical problem and encourage them to continue to seek a solution. Michigan’s gas tax revenues have declined by more than $100 million since 2001. This simply cannot continue without dire consequences. The decline is due to the use of more efficient vehicles and a stagnant economy that has reduced travel; Michigan is the only state with a shrinking population.

All road agencies, from the Michigan Department on down, must share in any increased revenue. These funds must be allocated in accordance with the present distribution formula — 39.1 percent for MDOT, 39.1 percent for county road commissions and 21.8 percent, for cities and villages. To do otherwise would be an injustice to the motoring public, since there is no other consistent, dependable source of funds.

Motorists travel a wide variety of Michigan roads — state highways, county primary roads and local subdivision streets - every day. It is obvious the “pothole” problem is prevalent on all levels, because statewide funding has not kept up with the need to maintain and upgrade these roads

About the author: Lee A. Bowen is chairman of TC-TALUS, the Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study, and is also chairman of the Leelanau County Road Commission.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.