Detroit News: Group: Fund cuts chop roads to rubble
Friday, January 18, 2008
The Detroit News
Group: Fund cuts chop roads to rubble
When is the last time you heard of a paved road being returned to gravel?
According to the County Road Association of Michigan, that's exactly what has happened because of the continuing free fall in state transportation and road funding.
Seven counties across the state, mostly up north, are pulverizing the asphalt on selected roads and returning them to gravel rather than continuing to pony-up the scarce maintenance dollars needed to maintain those roads.
It's just part of the overall reduction of services because of cuts in state funding.
"That's how bad things have gotten for most of the county road commissions in Michigan," said CRAM director John Niemela.
"For the 2007-08 fiscal year, we're predicting a 4 percent decrease in revenues needed to maintain our roads. And, like everyone else, we're faced with rising costs for fuel, labor, equipment, concrete, steel and asphalt.
"This is causing many road commissions to lay off personnel or not replacing people as they leave."
According to CRAM, 74 of Michigan's 83 road commissions have eliminated staff positions; six counties have instituted one- or two-week shutdowns, shortened work weeks or severely cut back on overtime.
More than one-third of all county road agencies have made changes to winter road maintenance policies, including reductions in weekend and night-shift snow removal, approval of overtime only in emergencies or plowing only after 3 to 6 inches of snow have fallen.
"The bottom line is that over time, we won't have the resources to provide a safe level of service," Niemela said.
"If you cut back, you're not saving the taxpayers money; you're not maintaining or improving the roads. That in turn affects the economy and quality of life in a state that already has the worst economy in the nation."
CRAM sees at least a partial answer in a gradual increase in the state's gasoline tax. The tax is 19 cents per gallon for gasoline and 15 cents per gallon for diesel.
CRAM would like to see a 9 cents-per-gallon jump for gas and a 13 cents-per-gallon increase for diesel over a three-year period, bringing the fuels to parity at 28 cents per gallon.
"Those fuel hikes, plus an increase in registration fees, would raise $1 billion more for the state's roads," Niemela said.
"We know that's a hard sell in hard times, but it would go a long way toward solving the current problem, which is only going to get worse with time. Gas prices go up and down on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, and that price increase goes out of state and sometimes out of the country.
"But a hike in the state gas tax stays right here. It's a tax you can see because it comes back to us in the form of better and safer roads."