Letter: Don’t divert scarce road funding

It looks like Michigan’s Legislature may divert some of what was supposed to be new money for the state’s roads to subsidize the telecommunications industry, via Senate Bill 399.

This is frustrating given how great the needs are on Michigan’s roads and how long it took lawmakers to address the road-funding issue.

The bill was introduced last year and has already been passed by the Senate. It was recently voted out of the House Communications and Technology Committee.

It seeks to amend state road laws to significantly reduce county road agencies’ ability to charge adequate fees and collect adequate bonds from telecommunications companies that wish to install their service lines and other hardware in the public road rights of way.

The result would be that road agencies could have to use taxpayer money to cover some of the cost of repairing roads following the installation or moving of telecom infrastructure—the apparatus the telecoms use to make money. That means those dollars would not be available to spend on road repairs or improvements.

This is bad policy and will result in further deterioration of Michigan’s roads. It makes no sense to use scarce road funding to subsidize a for-profit industry.

Road agencies should be reimbursed, as current law provides, for any costs incurred as a result of the telecoms installing or moving their service in the public road right of way.

As legal guardians of the road rights of way, county road agencies must ensure work in the rights of way is performed safely; does not damage the road infrastructure or sidewalks, driveways and other utility infrastructure; and meets engineering and road-agency standards, along with all other applicable local, state and federal requirements—all of which takes significant road agency staff time.

We charge permit fees from entities such as telecoms to cover these costs when those companies place or move their services in the road rights of way. We do not profit from these permits; we simply cover our costs.

If this bill were to pass, beginning in 2017—when we’re all paying 7.3 cents per gallon more in gas tax and 20 percent more for our vehicle registration fees—a portion of that money will be going to subsidize the telecoms. That likely wasn’t part of the plan when the Legislature proposed the road-funding package.

We encourage Michigan representatives to vote down this legislation. It is contrary to the goal of improving Michigan’s roads.

Dennis Kolar, managing director

Road Commission for Oakland County