A Road Fix is Within Our Grasp

Are you anxious to fix our roads?  So am I.  The good news is that I believe that we are close to producing a sustainable solution to our state road woes.

In the wake of the May 5th ballot vote when our citizens rejected the tax increases in Proposal 1 by a 4:1 margin, both the Senate and the House have now passed road plans.  The House passed a road plan championed by Speaker Kevin Cotter on June 10th.  The Senate passed a plan championed by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof on July 1st.  Speaker Cotter’s plan featured $1.16B in incremental road funding while limiting tax increases to $119M.   Senate Majority Leader Meekhof’s plan featured $1.5B in incremental road funding including an $800M increase in taxes and fees.  House and Senate leadership discussions in Lansing over the summer have focused on finding “middle ground” between the $119M increase passed by the House and the $800M increase passed by the Senate.

A sufficient number of House members under Speaker Cotter’s leadership have made it clear that $119M in new taxes and fees is the maximum they are willing to pursue.  We would seem to be at an impasse…if we were to remain focused on tax or fee increases.  Let’s shift our focus instead upon what the Senate and House plans have in common.

Both the House and the Senate plans featured $700M in incremental road funding through re-prioritization of existing funds.  If we continue to build roads to our current quality standards, this $700M would still leave us $500M short of the consensus $1.2B in incremental funding that is needed to keep our roads from degrading further.  What if we were to go forgo politics-as-usual, actually listen to voters, and build better roads that last longer?

If we were to spend an additional $700M per year, we could repair 8,319 lane-miles per year[1] if we remain with our current “version 1” roads.  Our state has 252,709 lane-miles[2] in our road system.  37,148[3] of these lane-miles are in poor condition.  Every year 4,728 lane-miles[4] go from fair to poor at current funding levels.  In order to achieve a “sustainable” solution for our roads, we simply need to improve our roads faster than they degrade to “poor” condition.

How could we do this?  Well, the politics-as-usual approach would be to simply increase our taxes.  Looking back at Proposal 1, 81% of our voters have already rejected one cut at this approach in a manner that earned bonus points for style.

What other options do we have?  I believe that the best approach arises from listening to citizens who are demanding higher quality roads that last longer.

So what would happen if we were to upgrade our roads to a higher quality “version 2” road system?  First of all, it would cost 15% more in labor and materials per lane-mile[5] in exchange for increasing the design life by as much as four times that of our “version 1” roads.  This would reduce our repair rate from 8,319 lane-miles per year[6] to 6,430 lane-miles per year[7].  Even at this reduced rate of construction, we would improve our roads faster than they would degrade.  In other words, we would have a sustainable solution to our road woes.  Road quality needs to be Job 1.

So…I said we are close to a solution. What do we need to do to make this happen?  The House simply needs to say yes to several bills already passed by the Senate that would encourage competition, require warranties, and dedicate existing funds to fixing our roads.  This path translates to the passage of HB 4610, HB 4611, HB 4613, and SB 414 without “tie bars” to the bills that would increase our taxes.  This approach could be further improved by moving the 50 year road provisions in HB 4615 to HB 4613 and ensuring that all of the money restricted in SB 414 would go directly to road repair.

Let’s stop focusing on differences and start focusing on what we have in common.  If we were to simply pass what is common ground between the House and Senate road plans and satisfy the demand for higher quality roads from our citizens, we would have a sustainable path to fixing our roads that protects the pocket books of working families.  Michigan has struggled to find a sustainable way to maintain our roads for decades under both Republican and Democratic leadership.  A solution that finally fixes our roads without draining our wallets would be worth the wait.


[1] Based upon current funding levels, current apportionment of road maintenance dollars, and MDOT specified construction rate of 1400 trunkline lane-miles per year.

[2] Based upon MDOT Fast Facts which lists 120,000 miles of roads in MI of which 9,669 are trunkline roads.  Number of lane-miles broken out by Trunkline, County and Local roads not available from MDOT.  Reason Foundation data yields 3.3 lane-miles per trunkline road mile.  Allocation between County and Local road lane-miles inferred on basis of 2 lane-miles per mile assumption.

[3] Provided by MDOT

[4] Based upon data provided by MDOT that indicates that 1844 trunkline lane-miles go from Fair to Poor each year at current funding levels.

[5] Source:  Everlast Concrete Technologies cost analysis featuring the application of their Cement Hydration Catalyst and Sealant products.

[6] Assumes that all $700M in incremental funding goes directly to roads.  Currently, only 43% of MDOT funding goes to fix the roads.

[7] Derived by multiplying the 8,319 lane-miles per year by the ratio of actual funding ($4.0M) divided by the base funding request of $4.5B plus a 15% premium for upgrading the roads.