July 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Auburn Hills bridge, Woodhaven underpass projects among Detroit area beneficiaries of $30M in road funds

Metro Detroit will get $4 million to help pay for the $19.2 million replacement of the University Drive bridge over I-75. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

A job to replace a bridge over Interstate 75 in Auburn Hills, deemed unsafe this past winter, is the leading Metro Detroit project among nearly $115 million in special state road repair funds announced Wednesday.

Lawmakers devoted nearly $30 million to road and bridge projects in Metro Detroit this summer as part of the $115 million “priority roads investment program.” The great majority of more than 125 projects will be done this summer.

They hope the extra construction projects will make the state’s roads less bumpy heading into the general election season, while a bipartisan solution to Michigan’s road funding shortfall is proving elusive.

Metro Detroit will get 38 new construction projects totaling $29.7 million, including $4 million to help pay for the $19.2 million replacement of the University Drive bridge over I-75, and $3 million toward construction of a railroad underpass on Allen Road in Woodhaven.

For the second summer in a row, the Republican-controlled Legislature has divvied up a pool of $115 million that was set aside last year, as debate continues over a solution to the state’s chronic road funding shortfall.

Bipartisan studies have concluded the state needs to spend at least $1.2 billion more annually to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges, but lawmakers are at an impasse on how to raise the revenue. Proposals hiking the gas tax, trucker fees and sales tax were defeated in the state Senate last month before lawmakers took a 12-week summer recess.

Critics say the $230 million, two-year appropriation is a “Band-Aid” on the state’s pothole-ridden roadways.

“Now that they did nothing and went home on vacation without actually fixing the road investment problem, they want to rush and take credit for money that was approved 18 months ago,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association, a road building trade group. “They’re trying to take credit for baby steps.”

Money for 91 Ninety-one projects went to House districts represented by Republicans, while funds for 37 projects went to House districts where a Democrat holds the seat, said Katie Carey, spokeswoman for the House Democratic caucus.

In the last round of 108 projects chosen by GOP leaders, 87 were recommended by Republican legislators and two by Democrats. Gov. Rick Snyder reportedly chose the rest.

“It’s still lopsided,” Carey said. “It still shows politics plays a role in how all these are allocated.”

Not traditional formula

House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, bemoaned the politicization of the process at a time when lawmakers are under fire for not finding a consensus on how to raise more revenues to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

“Although roads and bridges shouldn’t be a political issue, some people repeatedly rush to political calculations,” Bolger said in a Wednesday statement. “That may mean something to people in Lansing, but the people who work hard every day in our communities just want their roads fixed.”

Monica Ackerson Ware, spokeswoman for the County Road Association of Michigan, said the targeted spending will help fix longstanding projects that counties and municipalities could not afford to address all at once.

“We’re just really thankful the Legislature was able to come up with this extra money,” Ackerson Ware said. “It’s unfortunate not everybody will get something.”

Lawmakers devised the targeted spending projects as a way to bypass the traditional road funding formula that trickles money down to each county and municipality, but doesn’t designate how it gets spent, said Rep. Pat Somerville, R-New Boston.

“It creates a little piece of mind for the residents to know that their money is going to these projects and it’s not getting lost in the bureaucratic shuffle,” Somerville said.

Somerville secured $3 million toward a long-sought project in his 23rd District to build a railroad underpass on Allen Road in Woodhaven to relieve congestion caused when trains block Allen and Van Horn roads.

“It’s really been a nuisance for the entire area,” he said.

The underpass project is estimated to cost upwards of $30 million. About $10 million has been secured from the federal government.

The railroad company has pledged to contribute 5 percent and Wayne County has said it will kick in 10 percent of the costs, but the project still is short of being fully funded, Somerville said.

“This $3 million just gets us a little closer,” he said. “We’re still not to the finish line, though.”

Overpass deemed unsafe

In Auburn Hills, the 51-year-old University Drive overpass near the campus of Oakland University and Chrysler’s headquarters was deemed unsafe in mid-January and closed for about a week for a temporary fix.

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, and state Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion, pursued the funding for the overpass.

Replacement of the bridge and construction of a new diamond-style interchange connecting with nearby roads will cost $19.2 million, said Jeff Cranson, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Funding for the project is coming from a variety of sources: $10.5 million from MDOT and state economic development funds; $4 million from the Legislature; $4 million from Auburn Hills; and $750,000 from Oakland University.

“It’s very unusual for a city to kick in money for a bridge that’s under MDOT’s jurisdiction, but this is a very desperate situation in Auburn Hills to keep this bridge open,” Greimel told The Detroit News.

Republican leaders who control the Legislature divvied up the money after taking suggestions from lawmakers in both parties and MDOT. Greimel said he made his request at the behest of the state transportation department.

“This pot of money is nice, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to solving the state’s road funding crisis,” Greimel said.

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