Friday, February 20, 2009

Is That a Road or a Chinese Checkerboard?

The $787 stimulus plan signed by President Obama Tuesday allocates $64.1 billion for transportation and infrastructure projects, with $27.5 billion aimed at highways and bridges. The question many have is why states and municipalities have allowed roads to deteriorate at such a pace. Most municipalities have road crews and budgets for such. Leaders are supposed to know and plan for problems. The roads we drive on are part of our quality of life. Third World countries are known in part for their poor roads and infrastructure.
The incredibly depressed state of Michigan is by far the biggest offender in allowing its roads to sag. Drivers here are amazingly docile about the horrendous condition, even holding a contest to see who can find the biggest pothole.
The problem allows a lot of finger pointing but no solutions. And it has a history.
In 1991, then-Gov. John Engler promised to funnel $78 million in road funding to towns and counties. He later rescinded the funding amidst his usual political game playing. In October 1995, the Grand Rapids Press in an editorial promised that in the wake of a defeated gas tax measure, roads would suffer. Higher taxes, it reasoned, would surely make things right.
The state raised its gas tax to 19 cents in 1997 with the promise of good roads in the future: According to an AP story in July 1997, Rep. Clark Harder, D-Owosso, said the public won't see the results of the tax hike immediately. "If we can get another $20 million to $40 million into this year (for road repairs), we'll be doing well," said Harder, a chief negotiator on the road plan. "A year from now people will be saying, `Thank goodness the Legislature did something about this."'
The gasoline tax increase is expected to raise about $200 million a year for road repairs.
Other elements of the road repair package include a 30 percent increase in truck registration and weight fees for $42 million; a one-time, $69 million dip into the state's Budget Stabilization Fund; and a plan to pave the way for reforms that might include the state taking control of more primary roads from local governments.
Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Naeyaert said the $69 million the state's rainy day fund will pump into road repairs this year will still leave a lot of the work for the years ahead.
Wrong. In a recent interview on WJR, listen to MDOT flak Rob Morosi do the dance.
(BTW, Naeyaert is now head of Naeyaert Advocacy Group, a lobbying group in Lansing)
This is how political promises work, my friends. And don’t be surprised to see other elements of the stimulus plan fail as well.

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