Opinion: Lame-duck bills could hurt Mich. roads
Lame duck is the time after an election when term-limited legislators — who will be out of office at the end of the year — sometimes take up bills that might not otherwise see the light of day. I hope that does not happen this year, but I wouldn’t be stunned if it did.
The bills that concerns me are Senate Bill (SB) 637 and SB 396.
SB 637 purports to support the concept of expanded “small cell” (cellular) networks — which we support. But it is written with a clear bias in favor of the telecom cellular companies. A number of the requirements spelled out in the bill would actually cost agencies like the Road Commission for Oakland County money — dollars that would not be available to improve our deteriorated roads.
For example, the bill would restrict the fee that road agencies could charge telecom companies for locating small-cell wireless equipment on a road agency’s traffic-signal poles to $20 annually. This would not come close to covering our cost to manage the facility, including having our electricians inspect the equipment to ensure it is not interfering with traffic-signal operations. Those costs would have to be covered with road funding.
The bill would also prohibit road agencies from requiring bonds from the telecom companies for the eventual removal and disposal of their equipment. The lack of a bond would leave the road agency to pay for any equipment removal costs if the telecom company refuses to remove it or goes out of businesses.
The Michigan House’s Energy Policy Committee passed Senate Bill 637 on Oct. 4. It now goes to the full House. This bill is bad legislation that would divert sorely needed taxpayer dollars from Michigan’s roads to subsidize multi-billion-dollar telecommunications companies.
SB 396 is also bad legislation. It would allow oversize and overweight timber trucks to use gravel roads without special permission during the critical spring thaw period when non-all-weather roads are particularly vulnerable to damage.
This is the period when road agencies typically enact spring weight restrictions (also known as “frost laws”) on these roads to prevent damage from heavy trucks. If the trucks are allowed to operate with excessive weight during this time, they will do serious damage to the roads, leaving the road agencies to pay the cost of repairing that damage.
That means the road agencies will subsidize the timber industry. Even the Senate’s own Fiscal Agency warns of the negative financial impacts for road agencies if this bill passes. It also predicts those roads would see accelerated wear.
Additionally, the bill would require road agencies to post signs on roads subject to seasonal restrictions at least 48 hours before the restrictions take effect. Currently, those notices are only required to be posted online. This requirement will cost road agencies scarce dollars and take staff away from other more-critical activities.
While this bill would primarily impact roads in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, the fact that it will waste scarce road dollars should concern all Michigan residents.
The bill was passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee in September and is before the full Senate.
Both of these bills are ill-conceived and amount to unfunded mandates for road agencies. Adding insult to injury, they come at a time when Michigan has finally increased road funding — which was a very hard-fought political battle.
I hope our friends in the Michigan Legislature will put the kibosh on both bills. If you agree with me, please let your legislators know.
Dennis Kolar is managing director of the Road Commission for Oakland County.