Our editorial: Potholes scream for long-term solution

The Detroit News

Lawmakers are fast-tracking a $175 million mid-year appropriation to help provide motorists with relief from this winter’s plague of potholes. The track can’t be fast enough.

Conditions this winter have reached a crisis point. The roads must be fixed.

Michigan’s roads are in a horrific state as the freeze/thaw cycle loosens pavement and leaves behind gaping holes. Some of these monstrous craters are so deep they reveal the steel reinforcing rods near the bottom of the concrete. They are literally destroying vehicles.

Repair shops report standing room only crowds of customers seeking repairs of busted tires, bent rims and brutalized suspensions. Tow truck drivers are enjoying a roaring business.

So, yes, the emergency funding is sorely needed. The measure passed the House this week on an unanimous vote, and will be voted on by the Senate next week. Once it is signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, the bulk of the funds should be rushed to local communities to help them bring dangerously pitted surface streets and highways up to safe levels.

As it stands, the funds will be divvied up as follows: $38.1 million for cities and villages statewide, $68.4 million to county road departments, and $68.4 mill for state trunk line preservation and support for transportation services for the elderly and disabled.

It would be better to spend the whole amount on repairing roads. But we’ll take what we can get.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokeswoman Diane Cross says she “has no words” to describe the current pothole season and what it is doing to the roads.

We can think of a few: maddening, bone-jarring, frightening, unacceptable. And how about this one: avoidable.

Michigan’s roads are not so much worse than its neighbors because weather conditions here are so different. Rather, this state has neglected its infrastructure needs for decades, choosing to spend elsewhere money that should have gone into its roads and bridges.

When Gov. Rick Snyder pushed for a permanent funding fix —a big increase in the fuel tax —that could have brought streets, highways and interstates up to passable levels in five to 10 years, first the Legislature and then voters turned it down.

Instead, the governor got a more modest hike in the fuel tax and an additional appropriation for roads from the general fund.

It’s not nearly enough. Instead of smooth roads in a hurry, the process of curing the state of its pockmarked roadbeds will take longer, and fewer streets and highways will get attention.

Conditions this winter have reached a crisis point, as evidenced by the booming business at tire and repair shops.

Motorists bearing the cost of new tires, rebuilding front ends and tow-truck rides should compare their repair bills to what a higher gasoline tax would have taken out of their wallets. They’ll most likely find they would have got off cheaper by investing in their roads.

Kudos to the Legislature for recognizing the desperate condition of Michigan’s roads this winter, and moving to provide some relief. But emergency appropriations are no substitute for an adequate, long-term funding solution that will end these annual pothole epidemics.