By ALEX MITCHELL
Capital News Service
LANSING—With Gov. Rick Snyder set to deliver his special message on infrastructure this month, Michigan residents agree on one thing: deteriorating roads and bridges hurt Michigan businesses.
“Roads are crumbling and people in businesses are leaving, and it is a direct correlation to the state of the economy,” said Rob Fowler, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan.
Snyder isn’t talking about his transportation agenda. However, Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, agreed with Fowler about what must be addressed this month.
“Going into the message, our primary concern is the quality of our roads,” Price said. “Road conditions are not in good shape, especially heading into winter. It is a tricky issue, road conditions are going down and costs keep going up, and businesses are being impacted.”
A report last month from the Work Group on Transportation Funding, headed by Rep. Rick Olson, R-Saline, and Rep. Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids, said that as of 2010, 35 percent of Michigan roads were in poor condition, 47 percent were in fair shape and 18 percent were in good condition.
And they’re in worst shape than before. In 2007, only 25 percent of roads were in poor condition, 51 percent were in fair shape and 24 percent were in good condition.
In years past, Michigan has spent about $1.4 billion annually on roads, but that number is expected to decrease to $677 million in 2012.
The report attributes much of this decline to fewer vehicle registrations and declining revenues from gas taxes due to the economy and an increase in fuel-efficient vehicles.
“We definitely have an infrastructure problem in the state,” said David Palsrock, vice president of government relations at the Small Business Association of Michigan.
“We believe that a strong infrastructure will help our members move their products in the marketplace,” Palsrock said. “What the solution will or will not be is something we are very curious to see the governor’s proposal on. If there is going to be a funding system we hope it will be a user-based system where those who are funding the system see the benefits.”
Such a system receives funding from taxes that people who drive on the roads pay, such as the gas tax. However, Palsrock didn’t offer an explanation as to what new user taxes could be introduced to replace old ones.
One solution being explored is to tax drivers by the mile as opposed to by the gallon, according to Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, vice chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee. GPS units and cell phones would track the number of miles traveled and report that number to gas pumps.
The system would also enable more traveled roads to receive funding proportionate to the amount they are used since this new system will be regional. Kowall said this system is an improvement since it allows the most traveled roads to receive the attention they need, as opposed to the current system that pools funds from across the state.
Another key issue Snyder is expected to address is a proposed bridge to Canada, labeled as the New International Trade Crossing.
It would make Michigan a more accessible route to the west. Currently, the only crossing from Windsor to Detroit is the Ambassador Bridge.
Opponents of Snyder’s plan, such as the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, would rather see the privately owned bridge expanded, something that has been discussed several times throughout the past decade.
Both sides agree that something must be done to improve traffic flow.
The bottleneck at the current bridge threatens to lessen the flow of goods into Michigan, Fowler said. Some traffic chooses to avoid the congestion altogether by taking alternative routes, such as going through New York.
While the business organization doesn’t have a stance on which proposal they prefer, it wants “Michigan to be the most accessible route to the west,” Fowler said.
“We don’t want packages going west to go through New York just because of slow down.”
Advocates of the new bridge say that construction jobs that would be created could boost Michigan’s economy.
“We certainly support building the bridge,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. “We represent companies that are in the business of building things therefore, we want to see a bridge that will actually be built, as opposed to talking about expanding the Ambassador Bridge and never getting it done.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By ALEX MITCHELL