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WNEM: Road Group Urges Caution on Snowy Roads

Friday, January 14, 2011   (0 Comments)
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A winter storm is on its way, and white-knuckled motorists will be reminded that the state lacks the necessary resources to mount an aggressive response to a winter wallop.

Unfortunately, because of continuing budget cuts by the state legislators and shrinking county road commission budgets, the ability to respond to winter storms is weak and limited.

In 2010, Michigan legislators cut the budget for snow plowing in order to meet federal matching fund requirements for highway construction.

“Blame the problem on a perfect storm of circumstances,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. “The cost of salt, sand, snowplows and blades all continue to skyrocket; county road crews responsible for plowing and salting the roadways continue to dwindle in Michigan; and the state has been forced to cut back on funding for snow removal and other traditional road maintenance responsibilities.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation reports funding for road maintenance, including plowing and salting in winter, is four percent less than a year ago.

Road commissions say that salt prices have climbed to $61 a ton, about the same as asphalt, which is about 25 percent higher than two years ago and an almost unimaginable increase of more than 130 percent over the cost in 2000 – helping to explain why road officials are often miserly in spreading the salt.

“Our regrettable failure to halt the slide in funding for winter road-clearing efforts means that motorists will have no choice but to slide down slippery roads," said Nystrom. "Michigan policymakers must come to grips with reality and finally devise a sustainable, adequate and long-term revenue stream to maintain a robust transportation network that is vital if Michigan is to experience a long-awaited economic rebound."

The money that pays for our transportation system, including winter cleanups, comes from the Michigan

Transportation Fund, which has $100 million less available today than it did a decade ago.

That’s because the fund is fed by gasoline and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Gas tax receipts have fallen for six consecutive years due mainly to more fuel-efficient vehicles and decisions by cost-conscious motorists to trim the number of miles they drive.

The postponement of new vehicle purchases by cautious consumers also means registration fees have taken a negative hit.

While the cost of all things associated with roads has risen dramatically in recent years, the state’s 19-cent-a-gallon levy has been frozen since 1997.

Nystrom said Michigan dodged a bullet last year by virtue of experiencing a relatively mild winter. But with wintry weather already upon us, the state may not be so lucky this time around.

If a harsh winter gobbles up a large share of the yearly pot of road maintenance money, road crews may find themselves hard pressed to do much beyond patching the bumper crop of potholes that will introduce themselves next spring.

"When it comes to maintaining our roads throughout the year, and ensuring the safety of motorists during the winter months, we simply can’t afford to not make the necessary investments," Nystrom said. "We implore our new governor and elected officials to do the right thing and find a sustainable and long-term revenue source to restore Michigan’s transportation network to the national model it once was.”

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