Michigan’s rural roads ranked worst in country

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

According to a report by transportation research group, Michigan ranks worst nationally for its poor quality of rural roads and 14th worst for its rural bridges.

The report was released Tuesday by TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group based in Washington, D.C.

According to TRIP, 37 percent of Michigan’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition in 2013 while 13 percent of its rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient in 2014.

“It’s no secret to the drivers — and bicyclists, bus riders, farmers and truck drivers — that Michigan roads are bad,” said Denise Donohue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.

“While the Michigan Legislature works toward a funding solution this summer, we also need Congress to address the insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund ... many local Michigan road projects have been delayed this construction season due to lack of federal funds.”

The federal surface transportation program is a critical source of funding for rural roads. However, the current federal surface transportation program is set to expire on May 31.

Federal funds for highways, bridges and transit makes up about half of all spending on infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund provided $1.21 billion last year for state and local projects in Michigan. That allocation is 14 percent less than the $1.41 billion Michigan received in 2010, due to declining revenues from the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax.

The next four states with the highest percentage of poor rural roads are Rhode Island, 32 percent; Hawaii 31 percent; Idaho 31 percent; and Kansas with 30 percent.

The top five states with the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges are Pennsylvania with 25 percent, Rhode Island 23 percent, Iowa 22 percent, South Dakota 21 percent and Oklahoma 19 percent.

“The safety and quality of life in America’s small communities and rural areas and the health of the nation’s economy ride on our rural transportation system,” said Will Wilkins, executive director of TRIP. “The nation’s rural roads provide crucial links from farm to market, move manufactured and energy products, and provide access to countless tourism, social and recreational destinations.”

Meanwhile in Michigan, transportation advocates concerned about the state’s roads and bridges want to increase the 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal tax — a rate increased by 4.3 cents in 1993 that has lost 35 percent of its purchasing power through inflation. A gas-tax hike is unpopular with many from both parties.

Michigan already needs an additional $1 billion a year to maintain upwards of 80 percent of its network in fair or good condition, according to state estimates. But voters earlier this month rejected a $1.3 billion ballot proposal to shore up road and bridge funding. The Michigan Senate has canceled its summer recess to tackle the issue.