As road money declines, salt, labor cost more

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Capital News Service
LANSING – State and local transportation agencies face a steady decrease in road funding and an increase in costs, and no short-term solution is likely.
“We are at a critical point,” said Bob Felt of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Office of Communications. “We may not have enough state funding.”
According to MDOT, state level transportation funding has been decreasing for the past 10 years and will continue to drop until 2015.

“It peaked in 2004 and kept declining after that,” Felt said.
Receipts from gasoline taxes, diesel taxes, vehicle registration fees and other revenues are the main sources of the state’s transportation funding, had fallen to less than $1.86 billion in fiscal year 2012. In 2004, it was $2.06 billion.
“We receive the same amount of money we had in 2000,” but the price of doing business has increased, Felt said.
The department has not been replacing employees who have left by attrition. “We do the best that we can with the resources we are provided,” Felt said. “We are looking for innovative ways to maintain our system.”
MDOT contracts with counties’ road commissions to maintain the state road system, Felt said.
“Counties are required to do state roads first” if they have such contracts, Felt said. “They maintain our road system and we pay them.”
Among the state’s 83 counties, 63 have such contracts, said Monica Ware, a public relations specialist at the County Road Association of Michigan.
“It makes more sense for counties to do that,” said Ware.
Michigan has more than 90,000 miles of roads and 5,700 bridges, making it the fourth largest local road system in the nation, according to the association.
Total state funds annually distributed to counties fell from $641 million to $569 million from 2004 to 2011, Ware said.
Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Oakland County Road Commission, said, “We suffer dramatically from our funding.”
In FY 2012 they got $56.8 million in state funding, while in 2000 the number was $58.5 million, according to Bryson.
Meantime, expenses continuously climbed. For example, road salt prices went up by 197 percent and during the same period revenue fell by 5.3 percent, Bryson said.
That impacts the commission’s ability to provide services. “We don’t have any money to replace trucks so we have to maintain our old trucks,” Bryson said, “but we are using them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the trucks,” he continued. “We’ve been finding ways to be efficient for decades, but there is little we can do.”
“We are all in the same situation to some degree,” said Jon Rise, executive director, of the Kent County Road Commission. “In Kent our revenue all comes from the Michigan transportation funding.”
Rise said Kent’s revenue has been flat for 10 years.
“The price of doing business has increased and we are definitely doing less and less, especially in the winter,” Rise said.
He said they’ve cut 40 employees so far. “Our salaries are decreasing.”
Both state and local agencies are trying their best to stay efficient.
But according to them, the financial situation depends on the Legislature.
“We’ve been paying less compared with lots of states in the nation for at least 15 years,” Bryson said. “If you want our roads to be as good as other states, the bottom line is we need more money.
MDOT’s Felt said federal and state solutions to the road funding crisis need to come from Washington or Lansing.
Legislative funding proposals have died time after time.
“I am not positive this year,” said Rep. Rick Olson, R-Saline, who introduced three bills related to transportation funding in 2011-12.
He is not positive seeing any relative proposal being introduced for the year 2013. “It is not on anybody’s agenda now.”
But he hopes legislators will put the funding problem on the table soon.
“It is a very important issue,” said Olson. “This year is the election year. It is not the right time, but I hope we can get it done soon.”

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