Counties get new money to fix roads after tough winter

By CASEY HULL
Capital News Service

LANSING — County road commissions, faced with unexpectedly severe road deterioration, have welcomed additional road funding approved recently by the state.

The Legislature allocated $175 million to the Department of Transportation (MDOT) to spend on summer road maintenance.

“With the spring flood event, we definitely got into the carry-over from last year and we’ll be able to make the repairs we need to without worrying about canceling any projects for this year,” said Chris Minger, the managing director for the St. Joseph County Road Commission.

“If this would have happened a few years back we would have had to cancel quite a few projects,” Minger said.

Counties saw greater road break-up than they budgeted for this winter, said Ed Noyola, the deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan.

“Generally we don’t allocate for such a multitude of spring breakups, and that’s going to affect most budgets,” Noyola said, “but it’s just going to depend on what part of the state you’re in.

“Counties budget for winter and non-winter maintenance,” Noyola said. “Anything that goes beyond the winter maintenance starts leaking into the non-winter maintenance money in order to fill these potholes — which means they won’t have as much money to make improvements.”

MDOT is scheduled to see a more permanent funding increase of $1.2 billion over the next three years as part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s road funding package passed in 2015.

According to a 2015 report by MDOT, “we needed an additional $2.2 billion annually in order to make substantial improvements,” Noyola said.

“We got $1.2 billion,” Noyola said, “and that won’t be fully phased in until 2021.”

Road commissions are cautious about assuming that the funding will come through.

“With term limits coming up, a lot of the legislators that passed the bill are going to be gone,” said Brian Gutowski, the managing director for the Emmet County Road Commission. “We have to make sure that the new group of representatives and senators that come in are going to follow through.”

If that funding doesn’t come through, “then all my plans to get this 148 miles of roads done will be thrown out the window,” Gutowski said. “We have just enough to keep our head above water and keep the roads in the condition they’re in now.”

Counties receive funding based on the miles of roads, vehicle registrations and population in their counties, Noyola said.

Michigan requires road commissions to perform preventive maintenance on good roads first as part of an asset management plan.

Keeping the road system in fair to good condition is the most efficient and cost-effective method, said Deepak Gupta, the engineering manager for the Clare County Road Commission.

“What you don’t want to do is fix the worst first,” Gupta said.

The quality of roads is rated as good, fair or poor.

Good roads have relatively new pavement and require little maintenance, Gutowski said.

Improving roads in fair condition can cost between $20,000 and $115,000 per mile, and poor roads can cost between $275,000 and $350,000 to bring them back to good condition, Gutowski said.

“We have about 90 miles of primary roads that are in poor condition,” Gutowski said. We would have to spend $25 million on those 90 miles to get those back into good condition.”