Michigan's freeze-thaw cycle, along with underinvestment in its roads, leads to craterous potholes each winter. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
The winter I was an intern, The Detroit News dispatched its reporters and photographers to find the region’s most grisly potholes. Then we’d run photos with a superimposed cartoon character — Chucky Chuckhole, a sort of Where’s Waldo? precursor — planted inside the giant cavities.
Sometimes he’d be floating in a hub cab. Sometimes he’d have a ladder. It was a hokey way to bring levity to an aggravating situation.
Nearly 40 years later, there’s no humor in Michigan’s still disintegrating roads. The early January snow and ice storms, followed by arctic temperatures, have pretty much finished the destruction of the state’s driving surfaces.
All week, I’ve been plunging into potholes big enough for Chucky to do laps in. The snowbanks are littered with busted tires and other parts that have jarred off cars. I lost a passenger side mirror. I feel lucky it wasn’t a molar.
I’ve also spent the week wandering through the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center, with it’s dazzling assortment of new vehicles screaming “Buy me!” But it would be cruel to take one of those beauties out on Michigan’s car-eating highways.
We’ve been griping about Michigan’s roads for too long. How about we finally fix them?
Gov. Rick Snyder in his State of the State address tonight is expected to again ask the Legislature to find a funding source that would raise $1.2 billion annually to rebuild Michigan’s roads and bridges. He will make the case that maintaining good highways will enhance Michigan’s economic competitiveness. He’ll ask for new taxes or fees, or both.
And since it’s an election year, he won’t get it.
Instead, lawmakers are clamoring for a tax cut to dispense with nearly $1 billion in surplus revenues resulting from an improving economy. Republicans want to lower the income tax rate; Democrats want to restore the tax exemption for pensions.
I do love a tax cut. But it would be derelict for the Legislature to cut taxes while our roads are in such outrageous condition.
Besides, the horrid roads are a hidden tax of sorts. All those folks who busted tires this week, or had their suspensions compromised, or lost mirrors or other parts are paying the price for Michigan’s longtime neglect of its infrastructure.
That $1 billion should not be considered mad money. It should be viewed as the cavalry arriving just in time to keep us from being overwhelmed by an army of potholes.
Even if this surplus is just a one-year windfall, the extra funding will make a big difference in road conditions. And if the excess revenue turns out to be chronic, then instead of rolling back the tax rate, we should dedicate that portion of the income tax to fund highway work. That would be easier for lawmakers to swallow then passing or raising another tax.
I’d like for once to drive to work without wearing a life vest and mouthguard. Let’s fix our roads and bury Chucky in his favorite chuckhole.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.