In Metro Detroit, 35 percent of major local roads and state-maintained highways are rated in poor condition with cracks, rutting and potholes requiring total reconstruction, federal data shows. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Lansing — Michigan’s transportation chief is warning lawmakers motorists could see more barricades blocking highway overpasses if they don’t take action to solve the state’s road funding shortfall.
While Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan for more than $1 billion in new revenue for roads is stalled in the Legislature, his Transportation Department director pointed Tuesday to an emergency bridge closing this week at a busy Auburn Hills interchange as a reason why lawmakers need to act.
MDOT Director Kirk Steudle said the University Drive bridge over Interstate 75 near the campus of Oakland University and Chrysler Group’s headquarters should reopen Friday after crews install temporary beams to reinforce a crack inspectors found last week in the 51-year-old overpass.
“That is just the tip of the iceberg if we don’t deal with these poor bridges — we’re going to see more and more of those emergency closures,” Steudle said Tuesday. “Our inspectors are going to be out there; they’re going to shut any (bridge) down that isn’t safe. But what you’re going to see is barricades.”
MDOT’s 2013 year-end report shows more than one-third of the state’s 254 structurally deficient bridges are in southeast Michigan — and replacing all of those more than 250 structures would cost at least $838 million, according to department estimates. According to the report, 57 bridges in Wayne County, 14 in Oakland, 10 in Monroe, four in Washtenawand two in Macombneed to be replaced.
Steudle highlighted the emergency closure of University Drive during the unveiling of a new transportation industry report Tuesday that deteriorating roads impose a $7.7 billion cost on motorists’ pocketbooks. He warned the failure to act on the state’s crumbling infrastructure could lead to “a catastrophe.”
“Are they suggesting that a bridge fall down? Do they suggest somebody should die?” Steudle asked of lawmakers, who have been reluctant to increase taxes to fund road and bridge improvements. “Why do we seem to have a mentality in the country now that we only react to a crisis? Why don’t we react to good management?”
The transportation research group TRIP’s study found Michigan’s 7 million motorists spend an extra $2.3 billion annually in vehicle repairs, increased fuel consumption, tire wear-and-tear and lowered values of their cars and trucks,
In Metro Detroit, where more than half of the major roadways are rated in poor or mediocre condition, each motorist shells out an additional $536 in annual vehicle costs because of poor driving surfaces, according the TRIP study. It did not calculate a total cost for the region’s drivers.
The report by TRIP — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research group that gets money from the road-building industry, insurance companies, labor unions and surface transportation advocacy groups — says 27 percent of Michigan’s bridges need to be repaired or replaced because they are obsolete or structurally deficient.
“We’ve got all kinds of problems out there,” said state Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy, chairman of the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee. “The longer we wait, the worse it’s going to get.”
Fed road money at risk
The report warns Michigan could lose up to $1.1 billion in annual highway and transit funding starting Oct. 1 if Congress does not fill a funding shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund.
Some estimates show spending will exceed federal fuel tax revenue in August, forcing the U.S. Department of Transportation to start rationing the money and leaving the states on the hook for what the federal government can’t afford to pay, Steudle said.
“That becomes really worrisome because now the state’s carrying the cash flow of the federal government,” he said.
The potential federal funding cut and new report come as Snyder prods lawmakers to invest more tax dollars in surface transportation.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of what comes next,” said Rocky Moretti, policy and research director at TRIP. “I think it’s fair to say what we’ve seen over the last decade is a lack of willingness in Washington to increase that funding. The state should not be looking to Washington to solve their problems.”
For the current fiscal year, lawmakers dedicated $351 million in one-time surplus tax revenue to road projects. Transportation planners estimate the state needs $1.5 billion more for roads to keep up with regular maintenance and repaving demands.
But $121 million of the money went toward meeting Michigan’s annual match of federal highway spending because of a shortfall in gas tax revenue caused by more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer miles traveled by motorists.
Steudle said the 2015 fiscal year budget Snyder plans to present Feb. 5 to lawmakers will request additional funding to maintain the state’s match of federal funds.
Deteriorated and congested roads that lack safety features to prevent accidents add $1,600 annually to the cost of driving in Metro Detroit through vehicle repairs, accidents and wasted fuel and time sitting in traffic jams, according to the report.
The study estimates these factors add $7.7 billion annually to the cost of driving for all Michigan motorists.
“That’s a number that’s hard to even fathom, but that’s the impact,” Steudle said.
In Metro Detroit, 35 percent of major local roads and state-maintained highways are rated in poor condition with cracks, rutting and potholes requiring total reconstruction, federal data shows.
Another 22 percent of roads in Metro Detroit are rated in mediocre condition and can be repaired by repaving, while 31 percent of roads in the region are rated in good condition, according to the report.