Potholed roads pose safety risks, study says

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Improving road conditions in Michigan is among the issues Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed during her campaign and has outlined in her budget plan. At the recent State of the State address she said unsafe roads “endangers our lives and robs us of our time and our hard-earned money.”

“Our roads are so bad they cost the average driver more than $540 a year, and none of that fixes a single pothole,” Whitmer said. “While politicians in Lansing vote down road funding solutions for political gain, the dire state of our highways is endangering our people and getting in the way of our economic prosperity. ”

According to the most recent World Health Organization, or WHO, report on road safety, road infrastructure is “strongly linked” to fatal and serious injuries in road collisions, and road improvements are “critical” to improving overall road safety. The report said the number of traffic deaths continues to increase. In 2016, 1.35 million people died in traffic-related deaths worldwide.

An October 2018 report from Lvl5 found that Michigan has the worst roads in the U.S,. and a 2018 report from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments said 39% of Michigan’s 120,000 miles of paved roadways are rated in poor condition.

According to Whitmer’s budget plan, the Fixing Michigan Roads Plan would include raising the fuel tax by 45 cents per gallon by Oct. 1, 2020. This would be done in three 15-cent increases scheduled for Oct. 1, 2019, April 1, 2020 and Oct. 1, 2020.

Investments would be targeted to the most traveled roads in the state, the plan said. A new distribution formula will direct $1.5 billion to state roads, $569 million to local roads and $64 million for multi-modal transit, rail and mobility projects.

The plan also includes a long-term solution to improve the state’s road conditions to “good” or “fair” within 10 years by “targeting investments to the most highly traveled roads,” replacement diversions from the general fund to free up existing state funds for education investments and providing a tax offset to reduce the impact for lower income families.

The public would be able to access progress of each road project on a “new easily accessible” website, the budget plan said. In addition, an independent committee would be created in 5 years—at the midpoint of the plan—to review progress, see if the plan is improving conditions, evaluate revenues to determine if the plan is properly funded, review whether the new formula is directing money effectively and recommend potential alternatives to the fuel tax increase.

“This plan is both transparent and accountable,” state Budget Director Chris Kolb said at the budget presentation.

Michigan State University apparel and textile design major Camille Ernst of Perry, Michigan, said potholes on Michigan roads are very bad, especially in the winter. But she said she thinks the quality of roads is dependent on where she’s driving.

“When I drive home a lot, the backroads in the winter are very scary,” Ernst said. “If I’m driving on campus, they’re usually the best.”

Although she said some roads are in poor condition, she doesn’t tend to complain about them because they aren’t the biggest concern for her. She said there are more important problems to solve, such as poverty and health care inequality.

“Roads are always the last thing I think is important for a politician to talk about. I think there are a lot better issues to tackle before roads,” she said.  

The WHO report said accelerating the process of having safer roads “will require increased political will and commitment at the highest level of government.”

In addition to car safety on the roads, the WHO report said 88 percent of pedestrian travel happens on roads that are considered unsafe.

As a political science student on MSU’s campus, Nadia Tyson said her primary concern with road safety has to do with road construction—including blocking off roads with cones and making detours.

“What I’m bothered by the most is the construction—but not the construction itself—but how long the cones sit out and do nothing,” Tyson said. “But, in general, I think people just have to be smart about driving in the winter rather than ‘we need to make sure that we bring more construction.’”

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