Voters are going to the polls in a few weeks to decide on whether or not to pass Proposal 1, a referendum that if passed will raise significant revenues meant to improve our state’s crumbling roads and financially stressed school districts.
Passage of the proposal would actually cause a few different things to occur, namely an increase in the state sales tax from 6% to 7%, an increase the gasoline tax, and an increase the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit from 6% to 20%. It is estimated that passage of the proposal would mean $1.2 billion are allocated to road repair each year.
Now this article is not meant to be show any type of support for the measure. I personally have serious misgivings about the referendum, in particular the fact it increases a regressive tax, doesn’t adequately solve school funding shortfalls and provides cover for politicians who were too afraid to solve these problems legislatively.
Instead, this article is about the problems and their causes. Any motorist who has utilized Michigan’s roads over the past year easily understands and appreciates the horrible conditions of our state’s roads. The potholes are everywhere and the problems only grow worse by the month.
But how did the roads get this bad? But what is the cause of the complete disrepair of our state’s roadways? In addition, how acute is the problem? According to recent data from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council, the causes of the problems are numerous and problem is severe.
According to the survey, only 17% of the state’s roads are considered to be in good shape, while 45% are in fair condition and 38% are in poor shape. Ten years ago, less than 10% of state roadways were in poor shape, while close to 90% of roadways was either in fair or good condition. Further, in each of the last 5 years, more roads have deteriorated than were improved.
But what are the causes? Well, first off we have had some brutal winters over the past few years. The deep freeze and resulting thawing has wreaked havoc with the cement and asphalt composites that make up our roadways.
But it’s not just bad weather. In Michigan, the load weight limit for heavy trucks is twice as high as any other state in the nation. This means we allow heavy trucks and trailers to exert more pressure and stress on area roads than other states, and it’s not even close.
However, the reason for our horrible road conditions is also about money. No state in the entire country spends less on road repair work than Michigan does. That’s right, we are dead last. According to U.S. census data, Michigan only spends $126 per capita each year on road repairs. And that’s actually a 6% drop from 2011. Compared to our neighbors, it’s a ridiculously low number – Ohio spends $258, Minnesota is $241, Ohio is $258 and Wisconsin spends $295. Illinois spends $325.
The numbers are pitiful. Michigan spends about half of what its neighbors spend on road repair work, and these neighbors have very similar weather.
Michigan also does not assess any additional fees for heavy trucks and trailers despite the fact they can move double the freight than other states allow.
If we really want to improve our roadways and infrastructure, we have to spend the money. These types of massive improvements aren’t free, but are entirely necessary. When President Eisenhower and Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, they allocated $25 billion for construction of what would be the modern day United State interstate highway system. This massive project not only created thousands of jobs, but created the infrastructure that allowed our country to grow and prosper over the next half century.
Like the federal government did in the 1950s, Michigan needs to invest in its future today. Although I’m not certain Proposal 1 is the best way to accomplish this goal, something needs to be done and done quickly before Michigan again gets left behind.