Opinion: Smart spending paves roads

Jack O'Malley

Over the past few months, you’ve surely heard a lot about how much money we’re spending on our state’s roadways, and how much is enough.

Michigan needs more collaboration between state and local officials to save on road building costs, Rep. O'Malley writes.

But are we spending as smartly and efficiently as we can?

Our local communities lack the tools needed for road repairs. We need to look at our regulations and make tweaks so areas across the state have more flexibility and freedom to fix roads for their residents.

It’s nearly a 10-hour drive from Copper Harbor in our Upper Peninsula to Detroit, with many counties, cities, villages and townships in between. Local communities and officials are more in tune with local road quality than a centralized entity such as Lansing. Our laws can be more practical to reflect that reality.

I recently unveiled a bipartisan legislative package with the minority chairman of the House Transportation Committee, state Rep. Tim Sneller, D-Burton, providing locals with this flexibility. The proposals encourage more collaboration between state and local officials to save on costs, change spending structures to allow counties and communities to spend road money how they see fit, and reform construction work requirements to allow crews to work later or earlier in the year if weather allows.

They also put in place forward-thinking methods that account for technological advancements with roads and what’s driving on them. Now and into the future, these plans will get more mileage out of our investments in infrastructure and help get more roads fixed from driveway to highway — where it’s needed the most.

The governor’s 45-cent per gallon gas tax was unpopular for many reasons, but two significant issues were a lack of say from the people and too few dollars going to rural areas for roads from the new funds.

A bill I have proposed within our wide-ranging plan will instead give counties the ability to enact a local fuel tax through a ballot measure. If approved in a vote, this would ensure counties — whether metro or rural — can put what they collect at the pump toward their own roads instead of shipping that revenue elsewhere.

Opponents will say this plan would cause people to drive to the next county over to buy gas and hurt businesses in the process. I contend that if I know my dollar is going to keep the roads I drive on every day in good shape, I’m more likely to invest that dollar locally. The appeal of local circulation should not be underestimated.

Smart spending paves more roads. We ought to be able to fix our roads with what we have available to us. We have started hearing testimony on these bills in a series of House Transportation Committee meetings separate from budget negotiations. As is the case each year, we’ll have a dollar number for transportation funding when a budget is signed.

Regardless of what that number is, Michigan residents ought to be getting the best value for their tax dollars when they start up their vehicle and hit the road.

Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, is in his first term in the Michigan House serving residents in the 101st District.