MIRS: Road System in Dire Straits
Friday, March 7, 2008
The state's leading road building group this morning warned members of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee that Michigan's leaders need to act now in order to avoid incurring ever-mounting road funding bills down the line.
"Our system is in dire straits," said Mike Nystrom, vice president of government and public relations for the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA). "We don't need to be experts to see how bad our system is."
Nystrom, along with Keith Ledbetter, MITA's Director of Legislative Affairs, told the panel that funding to support the state's road maintenance system has dropped precipitously over the past year.
Last year, MITA delivered chunks of concrete to the offices of members of the House and Senate to emphasize the dangers of neglecting the state's roads and bridges. Those deliveries came shortly after a bridge in the State of Minnesota collapsed — an image that has become the clarion call for more infrastructure investment in the United States.
"We have here in Michigan some 3,000 obsolete bridges," said Ledbetter, driving the point home.
The duo told lawmakers that Michigan can no longer afford it's pave now, pay later approach. While appreciative of the $150 million in bonding Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM would like to undertake for road funding, Nystrom called it a "short-term fix to a long term problem."
While "grateful," Nystrom warned that the additional borrowing bumps the state up against the limit the Michigan Transportation Commission has historically placed on borrowing. He also warned of the cost of more borrowing.
"$224 million we're paying this year on the debt from the past," he said. "We cannot afford to keep borrowing."
MITA an other organizations are seeking a nine-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase to better fund the state's roads and bridges. That nine-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax would raise roughly $450 million per year for the state's roads. Ideally, Ledbetter said the state really needs to raise $1 billion a year in additional resources for its roads and bridges.
On an economic front, the MITA officials pointed to a University of Michigan study noting that between 2006 and 2009 the state would lose 12,255 jobs due to the drop in funding for the state's five-year plan.
In Fiscal Year 2008, Ledbetter noted the road and bridge fund declined by $300 million, or 18 percent, due to the end of the Jobs Today program and the decline in gasoline consumption.
"We're losing significant dollars because people are consuming less," Ledbetter said.
Since 1998, the group contends that the purchasing power of the state's 19-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax has declined by 20.5 percent. That original 19 cents is worth about 15 cents now. They noted that gas tax collections have actually dropped from a high of $943 million in 2003 to $857 million last year.