Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Closing In on a Reason for Our Decrepit Michigan Roads

OK, we are all aware of the pothole deal here in Michigan, but it appears government is coming to the rescue.
Mike Nystrom, a lobbyist representing the unions that will do the road work that an increased gas tax will fund, says, "We believe, with [Gov. Granholm’s] leadership, getting the other legislature leaders together on this, we believe we can finally get something done that will help us to turn around the situation out on our roads."
Some counties are simply unable to care for their roads – Ingham and Wayne stand out. Some do a pretty good job. Oakland, which seems to do most things well, and Livingston, also manage their roads. Today, MDOT held two public public meetings on some road plans in Lansing that begin March 23. They were held at MDOT’s offices off of Collins Road, one at 1 p.m. which had about 10 attendees, I was told. For the 5 p.m. meeting, I was the only member of the public. The question I asked the MDOT folks is: Why do some states manage to take care of their roads while Michigan fails miserably?
I took Minnesota as an example. Anyone who has had the pleasure of driving there knows that the roads are in fine shape. Yet, each year, the elements relentlessly buffer them. There is freezing, thawing, freezing, thawing, the very same things that our public officials blame our pockmarked roads on.
I was told today by an MDOT chief that Minnesota can afford to pay for care of those roads because it has more tax dollars via a higher gas tax and higher vehicle registration fees.
He was mostly right: Minnesota charges an average of $125 a year to register a vehicle while Michigan’s average is $58. On trucks, Michigan averages $975 while Minnesota hits $865.
The gas tax is where Michigan drops the ball completely. It charges 19 cents a gallon while Minnesota charges 25.1 cents a gallon in state taxes. Yet Minnesota’s overall levy on a gallon of gas is 44 cents, while Michigan’s is among the highest in the nation at 48.9 cents. The big difference is the 6% sales tax we charge on each gallon of gas that goes into the general fund. Not to fix roads, mind you. The general fund, which goes for…well…other things, I’d imagine. Michigan also charges motorists another .875 cents a gallon for a fund called the “refined petroleum fund.”
We feel we are closing in on the reason for our awful roads. And I mean awful.

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