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Road map to stronger economy tied to properly funding Michigan's road and transportation needs

Friday, January 28, 2005   (0 Comments)
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By Mike Nystrom, MITA vice president of government and public relations

In the long, sometimes contentious, debate over how to get Michigan's economy moving again, not much has been said about how important a safe, reliable and adequately funded road and transportation infrastructure is to our economic recovery.

Every $100 million spent on road and infrastructure projects creates or maintains 4,750 good-paying jobs and there is $6 in spin-off economic activity created for every $1 spent on improvements. Those figures are nothing to scoff at, especially as Michigan struggles to revive its manufacturing industry while it prepares for the high-tech economy of the 21st century.

Yet, when it comes to roads and transportation projects, Michigan is selling itself short - by the tune of $700 million a year. That's the amount that Michigan falls short in funding needed to adequately maintain the state highway system, which does include the more than 100,000 miles of county and local roads and bridges. In terms of jobs and economic impact, this shortfall accounts for a shortage of 33,000 jobs and nearly $4.2 billion in lost economic activity.

Because of this continual shortfall, Michigan is falling behind on new projects designed to deal with current congestion problems and new growth. Michigan led the nation in paving the first mile of interstate highway, but lately it has become known more for its potholes, congestion and poor roads.

Unless elected officials seriously look at how Michigan funds it crumbling roads and infrastructure system, chronic funding shortfalls are going to choke off the economic turnaround our state so desperately needs.

Michigan's roads and bridges are funded through fees collected on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel. While fuel prices have steadily increased in recent years, the amount of fees collected has remained flat. Unlike the sales tax, gas fees are collected on the number of gallons sold, not the price per gallon. This is one of many reasons for Michigan's annual funding shortfall. That shortfall grows when you include the needs of local and county roads.

Through the efforts of Michigan's Transportation Team - a broad coalition of business, labor and government agencies - our state saw an increase this year in the amount of federal dollars coming to Michigan for road projects. While this increase is needed and will be put to good use, Michigan continues to be a donor state, giving Washington more dollars each year from the gas and diesel fees it collects than the federal government sends back in the form of funding for roads and bridges.

While any movement toward a more equitable federal funding formula is welcomed, it is only part of the solution to our road-funding crisis. Michigan must look at home for a more comprehensive way to fund the upkeep of its aging road and bridge infrastructure. All reasonable solutions should be considered and none should be rejected out of hand. If Michigan's economy is going to rebound and grow, then Michigan needs a modern and safe transportation system.

Shoring up Michigan's transportation funding shortfall would create thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in new economic activity, something that's sorely needed today. Such economic relief will not happen until Michigan commits to a funding system that meets the state's transportation needs instead of offering Band-Aid solutions for long-term problems.

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