Lapointe: Michigan needs toll roads

Joe Lapointe
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The defeat of Proposition 1, which would’ve funded a roads fix in Michigan, is why the Great Lakes State needs toll roads.

The electorate refused to increase the state sales tax to 7 percent from 6 percent, much of that money intended to fix the state’s crumbling streets, roads and highways. That’s why Michigan needs toll roads.

Granted, the proposal was confusing and unnecessarily complex. For that, thank the Legislature, which weaseled out of its obligation to maintain our motoring infrastructure.

Rather than vote to raise taxes, our elected officials punted sideways and made the voters decide in an off-year election with a low turnout. They got the result they deserved. That’s why we need toll roads.

So what do we do now? Wait for spring rain and summer sun to nurture our soil so that long bands of fresh, new smooth pavement grow naturally from our land?

Here’s a better idea: Toll roads, just like Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania and plenty of other states. Start with Interstate 75 north and south of Detroit and I-94 east and west of Detroit.

Force the drivers who use the roads to pay for the roads.

Don’t say it wouldn’t work.

In 40 years as a traveling journalist, I’ve rented cars in three dozen states. I’ve seen many tolls roads work efficiently with EZ-Pass, an electronic windshield device that records where people get on and get off the toll roads and bills them accordingly.

Another thing I’ve noticed while driving in three dozen states is that no state has roads more degraded and dangerous than Michigan’s. Our roads routinely damage cars and risk lives. Around the water cooler, Michiganians talk of blown tires and broken wheels.

You rarely hear that sort of conversation elsewhere, mostly just in Michigan, the state that put the world on wheels with mass production of automobiles. At the very least, we should be embarrassed.

But lousy roads are but one of many factors making driving in Michigan a wretched experience.

Because there is no reliable and swift mass transit system around Detroit, you get a large percentage of drivers who really shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle in any circumstances but feel they have to anyway because it’s the only way they can get from point A to point B.

Some of those cars are smoke-belching junkers with sharp, metal barnacles from previous crashes that simply don’t belong on the road. Many lack working brake or tail lights.

Because the metropolitan area is so spread out, it takes 30 to 45 minutes to get many places. Therefore, Detroit-area drivers seem to think cellphone use is OK, at any time, in any kind of traffic, even though it distracts the driver and endangers the lives of everyone in his vicinity.

And the design and layout of some neighborhoods is so anti-pedestrian that you risk your life by crossing a major road, even if you have the walk sign and the right of way. It’s safer, in some cases, to get into your car to cross the street. This is absurd.

No, toll roads won’t solve all these problems. They won’t stop people from tailgating or weaving from lane to lane or from driving drunk.

But there is something nasty about driving that is Pure Michigan. Having lived out of state for more than two decades and recently returned, I can assure you that Michigan drivers are more aggressive and rude than those of most places, including those of Midtown Manhattan in New York City.

The condition of Michigan’s roads, and the aggravation and trepidation they produce, might have something to do with the general disrespect that Michigan drivers show toward each other, sometimes culminating in incidents of “road rage” that leave participants dead or injured, as was the case recently in Livingston County.

This is not to say that bad driving takes place only in Michigan. Plenty of drivers do many of these things in other states. But when you force everything to take place on treacherous pavement, it puts a chip on everyone’s shoulder as big as that missing chunk of road that created the pothole that just blew out your tire.

So it’s time for toll roads in Michigan. And when contractors get the nod to fix the roads, monitor their work and make them guarantee it. Be vigilant. Follow the money. See that it is well-spent and not wasted.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, young or old, city or suburb, Upper or Lower Peninsula. We all share the same roads. For crying out loud, fix them now and do it with money from toll roads.

Joe Lapointe is a freelance writer.


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