By KYLE CAMPBELL
Capital News Service
LANSING — With the backing of a $3.7 billion proposal for road and bridge maintenance from Gov. Rick Snyder, the Department of Transportation (MDOT) is set to move forward on 14 highway construction projects in Northern Michigan this year.
The projects are laid out in the department’s five-year plan, which includes 50 road and 12 bridge renovation projects between 2013 and 2017 in the North and Superior regions.
James Lake, communications specialist for MDOT’s Superior Region, said most these projects were in the works years before they began surfacing in five-year plans, meaning even without all of the money requested by Snyder, this year’s projects will be able to move forward.
The renovations are set to begin with the resurfacing of a 6.3-mile stretch of M-37 in Wexford County between M-115 and 4 Road, which could start in March, depending on weather, said Bob Felt, communications specialist for MDOT’s North Region.
The other four Lower Peninsula projects are set to start during early in the summer and include two minor alterations to US-31 in Emmet County, restoration of a 5.5-mile stretch of M-88 in Antrim County and 1.5 miles of rehabilitation to US-31 near Traverse City.
Felt said the 2013 projects in the North Region will cost $44 million, a drop of $7 million from last year.
Doug DeYoung, vice president of government relations and business development for the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce, said the growing population of Grand Traverse County makes updating the infrastructure in the region crucial.
The county’s population increased from more than 77,000 in the 2000 U.S. Census to almost 87,000 in 2010. DeYoung said part-time residents who own properties and spend extended time locally during the summer add to the need for better infrastructure.
“It’s buckling, it’s full of potholes and there are some bedding issues,” DeYoung said of the stretch of US-31 set to be renovated this summer. “We need these roads to be repaired, to make it easier for tourists to access our hotels and our communities.”
DeYoung said renovations also would allow residents easier access to goods and services.
The Upper Peninsula has three road renovation projects set to get underway in May: I-75 and M-28 in Chippewa County and M-189 in Iron County, each running through at least September.
A half-mile strip of M-28/US-141 in Baraga County also will undergo work from June to September.
Three bridge renovation projects are scheduled for the U.P. as well, beginning in May with an overlay of the 3 Mile Road bridge over I-75 in Chippewa County and a deck replacement for M-64 over Duck Creek in Ontonagon County. The M-28 bridge over the Anna River in Alger County is set for an overlay renovation in June.
Lake said revenue has been on the decline because of fewer new car purchases and more fuel-efficient vehicles, hitting the state’s main revenue sources for transportation: car registration fees and the fuel tax. Funding for Superior Region projects dropped from $49 million in 2012 to $42 million in 2013.
Snyder’s budget calls for the motor fuel tax to be raised to 33 cents per gallon to generate $728 million in 2014, which will help finance $1.2 billion in additional funds for maintenance projects.
Lake said recent mild winters have exacerbated poor road conditions in northern Michigan because of more frequent freeze-thaw cycles.
“We’re really in preservation mode right now, trying to keep the system in good condition for as long as possible,” he said. “A lot of projects are temporary fixes. If you allow a road to deteriorate to the point where you need to fully reconstruct it, it costs more than if you fix issues as they arise.”
Felt said MDOT examines roads and bridges throughout and sets priorities for constructions projects based on “remaining service life or condition, traffic volumes, crash data, available resources,” among other factors.
Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, said road maintenance in the northern parts of the state is crucial to encouraging tourism.
“When people visit Michigan they don’t visit the big cities any more,” Potvin said. “They come to northern Michigan to play in the snow, to go snowmobiling and to do other winter activities.”
Eighty-three percent of the state’s highway pavement is rated good/fair based on the condition of the roads, but Felt said that could drop to 39 percent within the next decade at the state’s current funding rate.
As important as quality infrastructure is for tourism and commerce in Grand Traverse County, DeYoung said deteriorating roads are not a regional but rather a state issue.
Despite the hassle summer construction will cause during peak tourism season, DeYoung said it’s a necessary hindrance.
“Yes, for the period the work is going on, it’s a challenge,” he said. “But at the end of the day, when it’s done, it’s a great asset. We have to embrace the challenge because ultimately it’s for the best.”
By KYLE CAMPBELL