By Katie Krall
The Williamston Post
John Mcauliffe lives on Middle Street in Williamston and he had one thing to say about road conditions: “They’re bad. And then some are worse.”
Candice Christie drives her Chevy HHR from her home in Williamston to her workplace in East Lansing five days a week and she said the roads were terrible.
Mcauliffe and Christie are two Williamston residents who said they are frustrated with the condition of the roads in their city. And many residents are unsure how to address the problem now that a local millage proposal — which would have raised property taxes by 1.5 mills to create revenue for road construction and maintenance — was rejected during the elections in November. The vote ended with 54.2 percent against the millage and 45.8 percent in favor.
“I didn’t think it would pass because of the environment we’re living in, but it’s gotta be done. It has to be done and the money has to come from somewhere,” Mcauliffe said.
Brian Stiffler is the manager at Ellie’s Kitchen located on Grand River Avenue. He had strong feelings about the millage proposal and said he wasn’t alone.
“Nobody wanted it to pass. Nobody wanted it to pass because our taxes are already so high, we couldn’t afford it,” Stiffler said.
Stiffler is not a Williamston resident and does not have voting rights in the city. However, he still pays property taxes for his business and the millage would directly affect him.
“There’s a lot of business owners that felt the same way,” he said. “Their taxes were gonna go up and they had no say.”
But Christie said she was shocked the millage didn’t pass.
“I had heard people say it had passed and others say it had failed, but they’ve got to do something about the roads,” she said.
One of the major problems with poor road conditions in the state of Michigan is the massive effect the bumps and bounces have on vehicles. According to a report released in January by TRIP, a national transportation research group, Michigan residents spend about $7.7 billion annually due to bad roads. The breakdown of those costs are attributed to vehicle operating costs, lost time and poor fuel mileage caused by traffic accidents and the backups from those.
Denise Denman, a towing company dispatcher, said she wasn’t surprised Michigan residents pay so much because she often sends trucks to pick up vehicles that have flat tires or broken wheel parts.
“We get a lot of calls, you know, like insurance calls for people who blow out tires or hit a curb or something,” Denman said. “It’s not really just in Williamston. I send trucks all over.”
The damages that poor road conditions can wreak on a vehicle are extensive and can affect any part of the undercarriage of a vehicle, according to Bob Hill, the owner of Ron’s Auto Service.
He said during this time of the year, when the roads are slippery and potholes aren’t visible, he sees a lot of bent suspension parts. Hitting rough patches wears out the bearings on the wheels and the tires of vehicles. Hill said he fixes a lot of tire and wheel damage, especially with low-profile tires. Steering can be affected when hitting holes just right bends a control arm or a strut.
“This time of year when the roads aren’t maintained, we see people not being able to keep control of their vehicles and sliding into curbs and stuff,” Hill said. “They get on chatter bumps — when there are a lot of potholes and it starts chattering — and they’re going a little bit too fast and they slide into curbs and then we see bent suspension parts.”
Fixing this damage can get pricey. Hill said repairing a bent wheel can cost up to $180 plus the cost of the tire, which varies depending on the vehicle. He said his station replaces a lot of bent wheels.
Hill advised careful driving during the winter season, especially on side roads. He said while main roads are expected to be maintained, side roads sometimes aren’t plowed and are covering six or eight-inch potholes. And an eight-inch pothole can do a lot of damage.
“What they need to do is they need to slow down and pay attention,” he said.
A better way?
Michigan’s Senate approved a plan that would double fuel taxes in hopes of generating about $1 billion to repair the roads, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. Michigan’s House recently approved an alternate plan, proposed by Speaker Jase Bolger, to phase out sales tax on fuel while increasing fuel tax.
Some folks in Williamston said they were skeptical.
“I wouldn’t have any problem with it as long as all of the gas taxes went for the roads,” Hill said. “The problem is it never happens that way. You put a three cent gas tax on there and half a cent goes toward the roads.”
Mcauliffe agreed. He said he wouldn’t mind paying as long as the money went exactly where it was appropriated, but paying more in taxes wasn’t what concerned him.
“We’ve been collecting taxes for years and years and years. Now we run into a problem with the way they’re doing it because that’s taking money away from schools and local communities,” Mcauliffe said.
The Bolger plan could cut future funding for schools or municipal revenue sharing.
Stiffler said he wasn’t convinced another gas tax would be any help because he also doesn’t think the revenue would go where it should.
“They’ve already passed a gas tax years ago for the same thing and then delegated that money somewhere else — they didn’t put it in the roads — that’s why the roads are in bad shape now,” he said. “They’re gonna tax us again and yeah, they’re gonna fix the roads and then when they get a surplus of money, they’ll stop fixing roads and put it toward something else. It’s a vicious circle.”
Private Developer Dave Groop said raising fuel taxes isn’t the answer. He thinks the best way to pay for fixing and maintaining roads is to adjust the standards in which the roads are built.
“Some of the stuff we have to do to build these roads is asinine and very, very expensive,” Groop said.
Groop is talking about is bringing in sand to fill trenches when companies used to be able to use existing dirt. Groop said hauling dirt away from a construction site and then hauling sand back into the construction site makes the entire process more time consuming and more expensive. And, he said, “hauling heavy” tears up the roads, too.
Groop has been in the Williamston area since 1970 and said the amount of money invested in equipment and staff at the Department of Public Works is part of the problem.
“I’m not saying the roads are in good shape by any means, but there’s a lot of things that could be done if they thought about it to make the road construction and repair less expensive,” Groop said. “Quit feeding the pig and stick to the basics.”