Detroit News Editorial: Repair Michigan's Infrastructure
Friday, December 28, 2012
Last-minute passage of bills authorizing a Detroit lighting authority and a southeast Michigan transit authority offer new hope sagging infrastructure in the state's most populous region finally will get fixed. That plus this year's pact with Canada for a new international span over the Detroit River are victories for Gov. Rick Snyder and building blocks toward the better Michigan he aspires to create.
There's more to be done in the year ahead. Lawmakers must come to grips with the biggest infrastructure requirement of all: the $1.4 billion in additional revenue a task force says Michigan's transportation department needs to properly improve and maintain its roads. That additional piece would do wonders for the state when combined with the progressive steps made this year:
Detroit lighting : Our biggest city's system of 86,000-88,000 street lights is deeply troubled. Forty percent of the lights are out, leaving swaths of the urban area bathed in darkness at night. It's an open invitation for thugs and thieves to prey on homeowners and yet another reason for residents and businesses to flee.
Legislation signed into law by Snyder allows a new authority to take over the lighting system, sell bonds and see to the needed improvements. The city income tax rate will be set and stay at a rate of 2.5 percent for residents, and 1.25 percent for nonresidents working in Detroit until the bonds are paid off. Part of that will be earmarked for police and fire protection. A portion of the city utility tax will be dedicated to bond payments of up to $12.5 million a year.
The Detroit City Council must approve the authority and appoint two of its board members. The council should move as quickly as possible.
Regional transit : While other states collected billions in federal funds and built modern public transit services, southeast Michigan passed up the money and limped along with dysfunctional bus systems through 30 years of discouraging efforts to lay foundations for regional public transportation that would meet the needs of a region altered by population shifts.
Snyder was quick to sign bills creating a regional transit authority spanning Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. The agency can meld city and suburban services into a system that uses newer concepts, such as extra-long buses plying faster-moving express lanes throughout the four-county area.
A new light rail line between downtown and the New Center area will be folded into the plan and become eligible for federal funds. The authority can raise money through a special area vehicle registration fee, if voters approve.
Metro Detroit is the country's largest region without a comprehensive rapid transit system. This whole concept still hinges on the willingness of local leaders to work now toward the common good.
Bridge to Canada : Lawmakers wouldn't consider legislation to authorize a new downriver bridge between Detroit and Windsor, so Snyder used his executive authority to work out an agreement with Canada and the Obama administration on his own. Canada will cover Michigan's $550 million share of the cost and recover its up-front money with the revenue from bridge tolls. The bonus is that the feds will count Canada's $550 million as part of the matching money needed to draw down transportation funds available to the state.
Voters gave the plan a boost by soundly rejecting a November ballot proposition that would have required a statewide vote on any proposed new international bridge. Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun spent more than $30 million bankrolling the effort, which was intended to block the governor's plan. Despite the verdict rendered by the electorate, Moroun says he'll continue to battle the new bridge in court of necessary. Snyder remains confident his plan will prevail.
Looking ahead, additional road repair funding has to be a major priority when the 97th Legislature convenes a new two-year session in January. Lawmakers likely will have to make tough decisions about increased taxes to raise the money. Jobs and economic resurgence will be the return on that investment.