Oakland Press Guest Opinion: Governor deserves support on road plan
This opinion article was published today by The Oakland Press.
By ERIC WILSON
The governor’s recent proposal to raise an additional $1.2 billion per year in desperately needed road funds for our state has been met with a mixed response from Michigan’s residents and politicians. But, with pothole season upon us, it’s clear that it’s time to take a serious look at road funding, and I strongly encourage anyone interested in better roads to support the governor’s efforts.
We have made the case on many occasions that Michigan has underfunded its roads for decades, and we are now paying for those “sins of the past” in the form of too many failing roads that are filled with potholes. The data is pretty clear on this point.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, as compiled by “Governing” magazine, Michigan has been among the bottom nine states in the nation in per capita state and local road funding – the money used to maintain roads – since at least 1964. That means that we, as Michigan residents, have been paying less than the residents of most other states to maintain our roads for all those years.
For a lot of citizens of the State of Michigan, any increase in road funding, as suggested by Governor Snyder, would be just plain hard – hard on their pocket books and hard on their families. But, ultimately, you get what you pay for.
A failing road system does not promote a thriving business environment. In fact, bad roads tend to drive businesses out of our state and discourage new investment.
People frequently suggest to us that if we simply lowered truck weights in our state or got more money back from the federal government or if we operated more efficiently, we wouldn’t need more road funding. Those arguments are simply erroneous distractions.
It’s true that Michigan allows heavier trucks than other states – we allow a limited number of 164,000-pound trucks. However, the most critical element is the amount of weight per axle, and the weight on those trucks is actually spread over more axles, so the per-axle weight is actually lower than on the standard 80,000-pound, 18-wheelers found across the country.
And, if we eliminated the 900 or so trucks allowed to carry 164,000 tons, they would be replaced by approximately 1,800 80,000-pound trucks, increasing the truck traffic on our roads while doing little or nothing to improve the roads.
Similarly, while we want to get every penny in road funding we can from Washington DC, Michigan is not alone in this desire. In fact, neither Congress nor the Federal Highway Administration is likely to give Michigan any additional funding without doing the same for every other state – and the odds of that are slim to none currently.
As for operational efficiencies, we are very committed to this effort. In fact, we have been pursuing and implementing those for years. Because Michigan has underfunded its roads for decades, finding ways to save money is nothing new for the Road Commission.
We have privatized more activities than any road commission in the state. We have reduced our work force by 30 percent (about 170 employees) in the last five years while cutting pay and benefits for new hires. We have consolidated departments and cross-trained our employees.
The fact is, we have, by necessity, become pretty good at cutting our costs. However, after doing that for years, we are at the point where we have had to reduce the level of service we provide. The only way to restore the level of service that the residents of Oakland County deserve is to increase road funding as the governor has proposed.
And, as the governor has noted, if we don’t do that, our roads will continue to deteriorate at an ever-increasing rate, and the ultimate cost to restore them will be far greater than it would be to simply pay for proper road maintenance today.
That’s why I encourage everyone interested in good roads to join me in supporting those in Lansing working to increase road funding for our state. Let’s hope they can act quickly to enact a plan that allows for the preservation of our roads and that is palatable to the residents of our state.
Eric Wilson is a board member of the Road Commission for Oakland County.