It’s time to prioritize Michigan roads, transportation chair says

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — In light of a recent study detailing Michigan’s road needs, some legislators say they’re hoping to see roads become a bigger priority for the state.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said transportation is his main focus, and roads are a major issue.

“The two things that my constituents bring up the most are insurance and roads,” Cole said.

A recent study by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group, concluded that Michigan’s roads require more than the increased funding they’re getting, or else they may deteriorate further.

“As we saw the economy start to heal itself, what we’ve seen is significant travel growth in Michigan,” said Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research for TRIP.

Moretti said from 2013-2016, Michigan had a 10 percent increase in vehicle travel, one of the highest in the country. This brings a lot of wear and tear on roads and bridges, he said.

Michigan has also seen a higher rate of increase in traffic deaths than most other states in recent years, he said, which he said he hopes will put pressure on officials to prioritize roadway safety.

The number of Michigan roads that are in poor condition is projected to double by 2020, Moretti said.

“The additional funding is very helpful,  but even then, the state continues to fall behind,” he said. “And you see this economic growth returning, but that growth is very much reliant on a good transportation system.

“You would obviously want to avoid having crumbling infrastructure actually impede the economic growth in the state.”

Michigan is not prioritizing its roads right now, but the state doesn’t have an endless fund of money, Cole said. And Michigan’s physical characteristics make it hard to keep roads in shape.

“A huge geographical area in Michigan was built on a swamp, so that presents challenges with how long roads last,” Cole said. “Then you’ve got an increase in traffic, you’ve got a time period of non-investment. We built really good roads, they lasted for a really long time. Little band aids worked for a long time. Now, we’re looking at a time where we need to reconstruct those roads.”

The state needs to make hard choices to make sure its roads are repaired, Cole said. A lot of the state’s programs are not part of the government’s core responsibility, while roads and infrastructure are constitutional mandates.

Cole said cutting redundant regulations could save some money for roads.

“For example, I’ve got a piece of campground legislation. Small campgrounds are double-regulated,” Cole said. “They’re regulated by the county health department and the Department of Environmental Quality. I’m trying to remove the DEQ regulation and have one permit fee and one person that the campgrounds are accountable to.”

Other opportunities to save money can be met by cutting programs that aren’t working within the roles of government. One program he mentioned is the requirement to install LED lights in a house.

“We really need to look at what the role of government is, and what the role of government is not,” Cole said. “We can’t fund everything, and we really need to focus on what is constitutional, meaning infrastructure, basic public education.”

Cole said cutting programs can cause a stir.

“You’ve got people saying, ‘But I like this program.’ And some programs are really nice, but it’s just something the state cannot afford,” he said.

Cole said he’s “just looking at what’s necessary. And that’s what we need to look at. The nuts and bolts of things, and then we can start putting some frills and doing these things that are very nice.”

“You’ve got to bake the cake before you put the frosting on,” Cole said.