Report: Bad roads put Michigan recovery in jeopardy

Tom Greenwood and Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Michigan's steady economic recovery after years of battering by a crippling recession could be jeopardized due to an increase in deteriorating roads and bridges, needed safety improvements and a lack of funding.

That's the conclusion of a report released Monday by TRIP, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that researches, evaluates and distributes information on surface transportation issues.

"The percentage of Michigan's major roads that are in poor condition increased significantly in recent years, from 23 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2014," according to the TRIP report.

In 2014, 45 percent of Michigan's roads were rated in fair condition while the remaining 17 percent were rated as being in good condition.

The report called for increased investment in transportation at the local, state and federal levels, an increase needed to support long-term economic growth.

"The bottom line is that the state has a significant amount of road and bridge deterioration, and it's only going to get worse at the current level of funding," said Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP.

The report was released two weeks before Michigan residents are asked to vote on Proposition 1, which calls for dropping the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline/diesel sales and replacing it with a new wholesale fuel tax system and an increase in the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent on all other goods that are currently taxed. The package would raise $1.2 billion in new road funding that Gov. Rick Snyder has sought.

Proposition 1 also triggers a series of 10 new laws that would generate $300 million more for public education, $95 million for local government revenue sharing and $260 million for a tax credit for low-income residents with jobs, prompting opponents to call Proposition 1 a giveaway to "special interests."

If voters approve the measure May 5, the tax hike would average $545 per household in 2016 — or $45 a month. The per-household tax increase would fall to $474, or $40 per month, in 2017 when low- to moderate-income residents become eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit under Proposition 1.

Opponents have not argued about the condition of Michigan's roads and bridges. They have said more funding could be diverted from existing state funds without a tax hike.

"Most voters, especially Republican party activists, know the state takes more than enough from their pockets in taxes and fees," Proposition 1 opponent and 8th Congressional District Republican Committee Chairman Tom McMillin said Monday. "They want Lansing to do their job and prioritize the money they have already taken from us."

At a Detroit Regional Chamber news conference, Metro Detroit officials echoed the dire need to address the dilapidated roads and bridges.

"This is a business issue," said Jason Puscas, director of government relations at the regional chamber that supports Prop 1. "...Our recovery is threatened by increased deterioration of Michigan's roads and bridges and the lack of needed transportation improvement to serve economic development."

Without more funding for roads, according to TRIP, pavements conditions across the state are expected to deteriorate significantly.

"By 2025, the share of major roads in poor condition is projected to increase to 53 percent," TRIP said in its report. "Keeping roads in good condition by performing minor maintenance is far more cost-effective than waiting until roads are in fair or poor condition when it becomes far more costly to make needed repairs."

According to TRIP, driving on rough roads costs Michigan motorists a total of $4.8 billion each year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs, representing an average cost of $686 annually per motorist.

The costs include accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear.

According to TRIP's research, upgrading all of Michigan's roads currently in poor or fair condition to good condition would cost $14.1 billion. Nearly 80 percent of all local Michigan governments said they would need a 50 percent increase in state funding for local roads just to maintain roads in their current condition.

TRIP noted Michigan has made progress in reducing the share of bridges that are structurally deficient, however "under current funding levels, the share of structurally deficient bridges is expected to increase."

"The percentage of structurally deficient bridges decreased from 16 percent in 2006 to 12 percent in 2014. By 2023, the share of structurally deficient bridges is projected to increase to 14 percent," it said.

The County Road Association of Michigan says there are 1,296 structurally-deficient bridges in Michigan. A bridge is structurally deficient if its deck, superstructure, substructure (the below-surface support portion of a span) or culvert is rated in poor condition, according to the state Department of Transportation.

There are 187 bridges in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties on the list, 41 of which have substructures that are in poor, serious or critical condition, according to an association spreadsheet with the most recent inspection data.

The statistics aren't complete because there wasn't an up-to-date rating for a number of the Metro Detroit bridges.

The TRIP report stated Michigan's economic recovery is also threatened by "freight bottlenecks and the lack of needed transportation improvements" that affected the $520 billion in goods shipped through the state, mostly by truck.

The report said the efficiency of freight delivery and personal travel is compromised by six significant highway bottle necks, including:

■ Interstate 94 at I-75

■I-75 at I-696

■I-96 at U.S. 131 in the Grand Rapids area

■I-69 at I-96 in the Lansing area

■I-96 at U.S. 127, also in the Lansing area

■I-94 at I-69 in the Port Huron area

"Michigan's road and bridge conditions are only going to get worse if greater funding is not made available at the local, state and federal levels," said Will Wilkins, TRIP's executive director. "Michigan has made tremendous strides to recover from a devastating economic downturn, but the deteriorating condition of the state's roads and bridges threatens the state's future economic growth."

(313) 222-2023

Staff writer Leonard Fleming contributed.