Opinion: No half-fixes for Michigan roads
Michigan drivers and our elected state leaders agree — Michigan’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and we need to fix them. Agreement is harder to find on how best to do that.
Multiple independent reports have said Michigan needs between $2.1 and $2.7 billion in additional annual spending to bring 90 percent of our roads up to good condition. Keep in mind this is on top of the $1.2 billion in additional annual funding promised by 2021, a portion of which is being generated by a 7-cent per gallon gas tax increase that went into effect in 2017. Also, this amount of funding will only fix our current system – it does not include any money to significantly expand our highway system to accommodate growth.
Understandably, Michigan drivers want to know why they are being asked to pay more for roads now, little more than a year after the gas tax was increased.
Simply put, we waited too long and raised the gas tax too little to fix the problem. Before the gas tax increased to 26 cents per gallon in 2017, Michigan’s gas tax remained flat at 19 cents for 20 years. During that time, the cost of consumer goods increased 52 percent. Michigan’s ability to pay did not keep pace with the real cost of fixing our roads. When we finally did increase road funding in 2017, only half of the $1.2 billion being generated comes from the gas tax. The other half is being diverted from the state’s general fund — or checking account — that could easily dry up the next time the economy softens.
During this whole time, our roads only got worse and the cost to fix them grew. The cost to fix a road in poor condition costs as much as six times more than one in fair condition. That’s why each year that goes by, the cost estimate to fix the roads continues to grow. It’s a reason why some are worried even the $2.1 to $2.7 billion estimate may fall short of meeting the need based on the actual conditions our roads are now in.
So, if we don’t get it right this time, the price of fixing our roads will grow even more. Think of your own home. If you have a roof that’s getting old, you can pay for it now or pay for it later — and it is going to cost a lot more later.
The bottom line is that we have spent too long debating, demurring and delaying a sustainable solution for our roads. What we’ve done in Michigan is literally kick the can down a pothole-filled road. And, that sends the wrong message to any individual or business looking to make Michigan their home. If we can’t take care of our own house, why would any business or person consider locating here?
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a comprehensive plan to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges. It correctly defines the size of the problem, asks the users of our roads to pay for it, and it doesn’t rely on one-time funds to fix a long-term need. Our legislative leaders want to explore all options, and they deserve the chance to do so. The only thing we can’t afford is another half measure.
Doug Rothwell is president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan.