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SEMCOG: Only 14% of S.E. Michigan roads good

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News
More than 1,900 miles of roads in southeast Michigan need complete reconstruction, SEMCOG says.

Roads in southeast Michigan are much worse than they were two years ago.

That's the conclusion Thursday by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which worked with local road agencies to assess the conditions of roadways in seven counties.

According to SEMCOG, only 650 miles — or 14 percent — of the 4,500 miles of major roads surveyed are in good condition.

More than 1,900 miles should be completely reconstructed from the ground on up — an increase of 500 miles compared to two years ago when the same roads were last surveyed.

The study also stated that another 1,900 miles are also in need of preventive maintenance to keep from descending into the "poor condition" category.

The problem is wealth and not weather, according to Carmine Palombo, deputy executive director of SEMCOG.

"Our state has been disinvesting in roads for years," Palombo said. "People may want to blame last winter's weather for the rapid deterioration ... however, the weather simply exposed the real problem."

Road conditions fall into three categories:

■Good roads have no significant issues related to their condition.

■Roads in fair condition are beginning to show wear and tear, and require certain preventive maintenance to improve their condition and extend the useful life of the roadway. This preventive maintenance is relatively inexpensive and can usually delay the need for replacement by 10 to 15 years.

■Poor condition roads have moved beyond the point where preventive maintenance can be effective. The only option for these roads is complete reconstruction, which is much more costly.

Revenues from the state gas tax (19 cents per gallon for gasoline, 15 cents for diesel) have been declining for more than a decade as motorists drive fewer miles coupled with the high gas mileage of today's vehicles.

Michigan is also one a handful of states that also has a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline, but the revenue from that tax does not go toward the roads.

The issue of raising the state's gas tax has languished for years in the state Legislature, which has been reluctant to impose a revenue increase after the state's economy was devastated by the recession.

But this month, the state Senate voted to more than double the gas tax over a four-year period to raise more than $1 billion annually to fix the state's roads. A similar billion dollar jump in revenues occurred when the gas tax was last increased by four cents a gallon in 1997.

"If the Senate funding proposal is enacted, we will begin to see the condition of our road system improve over time," Palombo said. "Unfortunately, if major funding increases do not occur, the decline in the condition of our roadways will continue."

Under the Senate plan, the gasoline tax would gradually rise to 41 cents a gallon by Jan. 1, 2018.

Gov. Rick Snyder has repeatedly stated Michigan needs to raise an additional $1.2 to $1.4 billion a year in revenues to keep the state's roads and bridges from falling into greater disrepair.

"Michiganders want to see a sustainable, long-term approach to our transportation needs," Snyder said after the Senate took action.

The bill, which passed in the Senate by a 23-14 vote, now moves on to the state House.