Michigan transportation planners vote to delay more than 200 road projects in next 5 years

By Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP
Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mich. plans to delay more than 200 road projects

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan’s inability to raise enough money to match federal transportation dollars forced the state’s Transportation Commission Thursday to delay hundreds of road and bridge projects scheduled for the next five years.

The state stands to go from spending roughly $1.4 billion on roads this year with the help of federal stimulus money to around $600 million three out of the next four years if it fails to raise enough of its own money to qualify for more federal funds.

That means it no longer will be able to afford hundreds of road and bridge construction projects it had included in its 2010-2014 five-year plan. One-third of Michigan roads were in poor condition in 2008, based on the Michigan Asset Management Council Annual Report of Roads and Bridges.

Denise Jackson, the Michigan Department of Transportation’s statewide planning administrator, said the delayed projects will mean thousands of lost jobs in Michigan and fewer chances to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges. Bus and train travel could be affected, and there will be less money to make rail crossings safer and for airport improvements.

“There’s challenging times ahead,” she told the state Transportation Commission. “We’re really looking forward to some long-term funding solutions not only at the state level, but at the federal level.”

Michigan currently gets only 92 cents back in federal transportation dollars that it sends to Washington in federal fuel tax.

If the state gives up hundreds of millions of dollars more each year in federal matching funds, “we go from 92 cents to about 50 cents,” warned Mike Nystrom of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, which wants more money spent on roads.

Earlier this week, GOP state Rep. Richard Ball of Laingsburg and Democratic Rep. Pam Byrnes of Chelsea introduced a package of bills that would raise just enough money to meet Michigan’s federal matching fund requirements over the next five years — $240 million annually to start, and $480 million when fully implemented in 2013.

If passed, the bills would raise the state gasoline tax from 19 cents to 23 cents per gallon and the diesel tax from 15 cents to 21 cents per gallon starting March 1. Beginning in 2013, both the gasoline and diesel tax would rise to 27 cents per gallon.

The bill sponsors realize it will be tough to pass a fuel tax increase in an election year. Attempts last year to pass either a diesel tax hike or to come up with other ways to raise more money for roads went nowhere.

But the lawmakers point out the alternative is to let hundreds of transportation projects fall by the wayside, increasing congestion, potholes and possibly accidents.

At some point, the state likely will need to raise vehicle registration fees so that all cars and trucks — including electric vehicles and hybrids — pay for using the roads, Nystrom said.

Although the state’s poor economy is one reason drivers are buying less fuel that normally would go for road improvements, the increase in vehicles getting better mileage has played a role as well.

State officials hope Congress will put a new funding formula in place that would send back a greater proportion of the fuel taxes Michigan sends to Washington. But MDOT director Kirk Steudle warned there’s no guarantee Michigan will get even 92 cents back when a new federal transportation bill is passed.

On the Net:

MDOT’s 2010-2014 Draft Transportation Program: www.michigan.gov/mdot5yearplan

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