Opinion: Improving access to road-building materials

Triston Cole

Spring has finally arrived in Michigan, bringing with it green grass, blooming flowers and, of course, more potholes. With the snow and ice melted, your car — and your wallet —  are taking a beating.    

Warren Evans joined one of the county's road patching crews on Merriman Road near Michigan Avenue in the city of Wayne with temperatures rapidly rising and roads deteriorating.

That is why last year we elected a new governor who said she will "fix the damn roads." And even though we increased spending on road repairs just a few years ago, we are again debating in Lansing how to put more of your money into finally getting our crumbling roads, bridges and infrastructure fixed.  

Because higher taxes cannot not be the first or only solution to our problem, we must first spend the funds we already have more efficiently, so your tax dollars pave more miles of road.  

How can we do that? One way is to lower the cost of building roads in the first place. That is why I am writing legislation that will help reduce the cost of acquiring the raw materials needed for road building, in particular sand and gravel, by modernizing our laws to allow for more locally-sourced, environmentally sound sand and gravel operations. 

Oftentimes these aggregate materials are not available in the amounts needed close to where construction is taking place. Transporting them across Michigan and even from Indiana and Ohio pushes the cost to taxpayers higher and higher. Plus, a recent state report showed that currently accessible supplies of sand and gravel are starting to dwindle in some locations. 

For example, in southeast Michigan, a region that drives much of our state economy and where about half of the state’s population lives, over 9 million tons of aggregates per year must be transported in from all over the state by truck, rail and even boat just to keep up with current demand. As a result, the cost of transporting sand and gravel is at times equal to or may even exceed the cost of the material itself, literally throwing away tax dollars that should be used to pave more miles instead.  

To ease this problem, my legislation will require that new and expanded mining operations are held to strong water and air standards while modernizing permitting to speed up the process, keeping up with the fast-paced world in which we are competing for economic success.  

Family economic security cannot be held hostage by a “not in my backyard” type of fight led by a relatively few people. Nor can we allow sound policy that benefits the entire state to be stopped by half-truths or fear. 

No matter what you hear, rest assured that all new aggregate facilities will have to pass stringent water and air quality permitting processes by the new Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy. Traffic will continue to be limited to appropriate routes. And, we will respect private property rights. 

All of this and more is why these reforms have the support of union-operating engineers, the construction industry and our business leaders. It is the type of broad coalition from both sides of the so-called political aisle that we do not see very often any more. That speaks to how important this legislation is to Michigan’s future.   

We are blessed to have the natural resources needed to fix our roads and keep our economy competitive but we have to access them to take advantage of it. With these changes, we can help make Michigan’s upcoming infrastructure rebuild more affordable, pave more roads, and build them Michigan strong with Michigan materials and workers.  

Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, represents Michigan’s 105th District in the Michigan House of Representatives.