michigan roads

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan roads are expected to be crowded later this week as people take advantage of the first big summer holiday weekend.

AAA predicts 1.1 million Michiganders will travel during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That’s a slight increase over Memorial Day weekend 2013.

AAA says most people will travel by car, encouraged by slipping gasoline prices, though they can expect to pay more for hotel rooms and rental cars.

Not everyone is traveling by car or truck.

If by any chance you’ve left your house anytime in, oh, say, the last year, you may have noticed that our roads are in terrible shape. Gov. Rick Snyder knows this. Two years ago, he asked the Legislature for $1.2 billion a year for a decade in new money to fix the roads. If you think that’s a lot, you’re right.

But it is less than studies show our horrible roads are costing us every year in the increased cost of fuel and car repairs, as well as  the incalculable cost of businesses that won’t expand in or move to Michigan because our infrastructure is in such lousy shape.

The governor hasn’t always been a statesman, nor above pandering to the far right. But he is a businessman, and devoted to economic expansion. He knows you need decent roads to attract business, especially the kind that produce high-tech, high-paying jobs.

House Republicans have come up with an annual $500 million solution to fixing Michigan's horrible damaged roads. Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press joins us to discuss the proposition. 

A Clinton Township man was senselessly beaten and robbed on Detroit's east side after stopping to help a 10-year-old boy who stepped into oncoming traffic. Steve Utash is now in a medically induced coma. Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press joins us to try and understand this crime. 

A neighborhood church in Metro Detroit has closed its doors about 91 years. St. Henry's parish numbers have fallen so low that the church is closing. Stateside's Kyle Norris grew up attending the church, and she joins us today to share her story.

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

As the snow and ice have melted, Michigan has come up with a bumper crop of potholes and crumbling roads – roads that were already badly in need of repair. And that has turned everyone's attention to fixing the roads and how to pay for it. 

State House Republicans are proposing an annual $500 million solution. 

Here to tell us more about that is Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau.

Listen to the full interview above. 

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The organization championing the interests of Michigan’s local governments is withholding judgment on a proposal to fix the state’s roads.

Officials with the Michigan Municipal League say they’re cautiously hopeful about the plan Republican State House leader Jase Bolger unveiled last week.

Recently I criticized the Legislature and State Senator Jack Brandenberg for wanting to roll back state income taxes. He has a bill to cut the rate from 4.25% to 3.9% over three years.

For an average taxpayer, that would mean a tax cut of less than a hundred bucks a year. But it would leave the state with nearly a billion dollars a year less, when it already doesn’t have enough money to maintain the roads or provide other services.

After this bill sailed through the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month, I said I thought it was irresponsible election year pandering.

Later, Sen. Brandenberg called me.

He was warm, earnest, had a sense of humor, and said I had gotten it wrong. He wasn’t pandering in the least, he told me; this is what he genuinely believed. He said this stemmed from an agreement to roll back taxes going back to when Jennifer Granholm was governor.

I thought his calling me took class, and it was clear he really does believe in this. Brandenberg has no need to pander; he is certain to be reelected this fall to a safe Republican seat.

Well, yesterday the legislature approved a budget supplemental bill that includes more than two hundred million dollars in new money to fix the roads, and the politicians are congratulating themselves.

Governor Snyder issued a press release praising this, and congratulating the legislature on “working together” and creating the “positive relationship” needed to pass this bill.

Now if you think about it, what he said sounds pretty bizarre. Working together? Positive relationship? That’s the kind of language you use when two nations sign a trade agreement.

These are the two houses in our state’s legislature. Their job is to work together for our good. And you’d think a “positive relationship” should be a piece of cake, since they are both controlled by Republicans. But in fact, there isn’t all that much positive in this bill. The road funding, while necessary, doesn’t address the major problem, and it isn’t clear whether this money will be allocated fairly.

Despite appearances, those who make our laws sometimes do listen to those who elect them. Here’s one example happening right now. Anyone who drives knows that our roads are in terrible shape.

Nobody remembers them ever being this bad, especially in major urban areas. But the Legislature has stubbornly ignored appeals from Gov. Rick Snyder to fix them.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Many county road budgets in Michigan are idling on empty after our brutal winter.

They hope state lawmakers will agree soon on an emergency road funding bill.

Drivers in Michigan could be forgiven if they think their morning commute feels more like an off-road adventure.

Brutal winter weather has turned many roads into a moonscape of potholes, more suited to an ATV than the family car.

Denise Donohue is the director of the County Road Association of Michigan. She says some county road agencies have blown through a year’s budget in just two months.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

County road commissioners meeting in Lansing today heard from a Pennsylvania transportation official on how Michigan can spend more money on its crumbling roads.

Bradley Mallory is the executive deputy secretary of Pennsylvania’s transportation department.

His state recently passed a $2.3 billion road spending plan. The plan includes a higher gas tax and other fees.

Mallory says like Michigan, Pennsylvania lawmakers know they have to do something to fix their roads.

There are more than 70 virtual currencies in the marketplace.

You may have heard of the biggest players: Bitcoin, Ripples, and Litecoin, which are taking out the middleman and reinventing the meaning of money. The idea is gaining momentum among college students. Today, we heard how virtual money is opening doors for young Michigan entrepreneurs.

Then, school districts around the nation and right here in Michigan are talking about ways to accommodate transgender students. The ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) is already working on model policies.

And we spoke with some talented Michigan musicians about how their EP (extended play recording) reached No. 2 on the iTunes electronic charts with virtually no promotion.

Peter Ito / flickr

As the winter of 2013-2014 drags on, we're really seeing what it's done to our roads.

Patching crews try in vain to keep up with a bumper crop of potholes. More and more of us are losing tires, blowing the suspension as we bang into one of those gaping potholes.

And keep in mind, Michigan's roads were crumbling before this winter.

With more winter to go, we wondered where our roads stand and what needs to happen in Lansing to do what it takes to repair and maintain the roads.

Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle knows all too well what this winter has done to the pavement, and he joined us today. 

Listen to the full interview above.

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Michigan spends less money per capita on its roads and bridges than any other state in the nation.

It spends $154 per person annually, according to the 2010 Census. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero used his State of the City speech Thursday to make a pitch for state funding to repair local roads.

Mayor Virg Bernero says the city of Lansing plans to spend three million dollars this year to repair pot hole covered roads in the capitol city. 

But the mayor says the city would have to spend five times that much each year for a decade to fix all of Lansing’s road problems.

In his speech, Bernero called on state lawmakers to use part of the state’s billion dollar budget surplus to help repair local roads across Michigan.

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State lawmakers return to Lansing this week with Gov. Rick Snyder’s policy goals for 2014 in hand. 

But few are optimistic they’ll be able to pass legislation to boost road and infrastructure funding before the November election.

Snyder has been urging the Legislature to boost infrastructure spending by more than $1 billion a year. But lawmakers say voters won’t support raising taxes or fees to pay for that kind of increase.

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County road commissions are closely watching their budgets, after spending more than usual on winter maintenance this year.

Freeze-and-thaw cycles have caused a wave of potholes across Michigan.

"If winter is very expensive, that can impact our other activities that the road commission performs, but pothole filling is something of great importance for us and we will address that," said Jim Harmon, director of field operations for the Washtenaw County Road Commission. 

Gov. Rick Snyder called for $1.2 billion a year in additional money for fixing roads in last year's State of the State address. But his proposal failed to gain traction in the legislature. He's expected to try again this year.

WFIU Public Radio / Creative Commons

Voters in Grand Rapids could get a chance to vote on an income tax extension this year. The city wants to extend a temporary income tax hike to maintain roads and sidewalks.

Grand Rapids voters approved the temporary income tax hike in 2010. It’s paid for a number of projects that will lower the overall cost of running city government. That increase will expire in 2015.

user Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

So there you are, driving to and from work or school every day.

Chances are, there's probably a stretch of highway you drive that seems particularly soul-numbing and doesn't let you get any sense of place or community.

If you could design a highway, what would it look like? And could it improve, rather than just carve up your city?

That's the idea behind Highways for Habitats, a contest being run by the Michigan Municipal League's Let's Save Michigan Initiative.

Sarah Szurpicki is a project coordinator with the Let's Save Michigan Initiative, and she's been involved in many efforts to revitalize cities in the Great Lakes region. She joins us today to discuss the contest that would allow drivers to play transportation planner. 

Listen to full interview above. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There’s a new idea floating around the state Capitol about how to boost funding for roads. Supporters call the plan “pot for potholes.”

Lawmakers like state Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville) would like to see the state legalize and tax marijuana and use that money to pay for road repairs.

“You can tax the heck out of marijuana,” Callton says, “put it into a separate fund for Michigan roads - because it doesn’t seem like that money is going to come from anywhere else at this point in time - and it’s a cute name, ‘pot for potholes.’”

Lily Tomlin and Oliver Cromwell have nothing in common, as far as I know.  But I thought of both this morning when I was considering the news from Detroit and Lansing.

Tomlin years ago came up with a perfect line to describe the latest twist in the Detroit elections mess.  “No matter how cynical you get, you can’t keep up.”

That was exactly the case when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met to certify the totals in the Detroit mayoral primary election two weeks ago. There should have been no mystery about the results. Mike Duggan had been ruled off the ballot on a technicality, but won in a write-in landslide.  He got nearly twice as many votes as his closest competitor, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. But Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett yesterday announced she was throwing out nearly half of Duggan’s votes, because poll workers merely recorded them, rather than make a hashtag mark next to them.

Not only did this cavalierly disenfranchise twenty thousand voters, it looks and smells highly suspect. Cathy Garrett is the sister of Al Garrett, a prominent union official who is one of Benny Napoleon’s biggest backers.

Now her decision would not have changed the lineup for the November runoff. It will still be between Duggan and Napoleon. But Garrett’s maneuver would have allowed Napoleon’s backers to claim he “won” a primary he actually lost.

Flickr user taberandrew / Flickr

The Michigan State Police and some lawmakers say it’s time to boost speed limits across the state. Many limits have not been adjusted for decades.

Republican state Senator Rick Jones plans to introduce legislation next month to increase the limits. The former county sheriff says the measure would also reduce speed traps.

“We have had some artificially lower speed limits posted. I believe many of them are posted for revenue, and it simply is not needed.”

The legislation would require local governments to set speed limits based on scientific studies.

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State Senate delays road legislation

Leaders in the state Senate say that plans to fix Michigan roads aren't likely to appear on the November ballot.  Governor Rick Snyder has pushed to raise registration fees and gas taxes to pay for road repairs.  Michigan Radio's Jake Neher reports that lawmakers are instead favoring an increased sales tax to raise the money. 

Michigan's panhandling ban overturned

Yesterday a federal appeals court struck down Michigan's ban on panhandling. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit in 2011 on behalf of two Grand Rapids men who had been repeatedly penalized for begging in public.  Michigan Radio's Mark Brush reports the court ruled that "begging, panhandling, or asking for money in a public place is protected as free speech under the First Amendment."

Fate of new Wayne County jail debated

Wayne County officials are considering scrapping a half-finished jail construction.  Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports that Governor Rick Snyder is pushing for the county to stop the project, sell the property, and lease an older state-owned jail facility.  The Detroit Free Press also reports that the Wayne County Building Authority is considering firing the project manager who authorized "more than $42 million in major changes without the needed written approval of the Building Authority."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A plan to improve Michigan’s roads and infrastructure will probably not be on the November ballot. That’s according to leaders of both parties in the state Senate.

Governor Rick Snyder wants the state Legislature to boost road funding by more than a billion dollars a year. But lawmakers have not embraced his plan to raise registration fees and the state’s gas tax to pay for it.

Instead, multiple plans have surfaced that would include asking voters to increase the state’s sales tax.

I travel to Toledo once a week, and if you make that trip, you know how wretched the roads are in some places.

The governor does too. For two years, he’s been trying to get the legislature to come up with new money to pay for the roads. Unfortunately, I can now report that our lawmakers have gone from doing nothing about Medicaid to doing nothing about the roads, unless moaning and finger-pointing count.

Yesterday, the Gongwer News Service produced a story which said there was finally optimism something would happen. Unfortunately, there was little evidence of it.

It did quote Speaker of the House Jase Bolger literally whining, “It is true the House Democrats have failed to offer any solutions for transportation funding, but that is par for the course.” The Speaker  added, “Some people might get the idea that Democrats would rather complain than cooperate.”

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Legislators working to prevent animal abuse in Michigan

A bid to make Michigan the first state with an animal abuser registry has been dropped by lawmakers over concerns about cost and other issues. Instead, the state could soon require that criminal background checks be done on every would-be pet adopter at Michigan animal shelters. The $10 fee for each check could be waived for shelters. Cracking down on animal abuse has broad support, though some dog breeders question doing tens of thousands of background checks to flag a small number of abusers.

Michigan left turn could enter other states

The median U-turn is common on Michigan roadways; they allow drivers to avoid accident-generating left turns at intersections. But Wayne State University engineers say they aren't common in other states yet, in part because the design isn't included in standard manuals and software used by highway designers. The university received a $78,000 grant from Scientific Applications with which they plan to develop equations, text and software to include the Michigan left turn in the Highway Capacity Manual.

Looking forward to local primaries tomorrow

Local primaries will be taking place across Michigan tomorrow. The most interesting might be the Detroit mayoral primary. There are 14 names on the ballot, but the race is widely seen as a duel between former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan, and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. But Duggan isn't even on the ballot, he's running a write-in campaign. Only the top two candidates will advance to the November general election.

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More than 12% of Michigan bridges have been deemed "structurally unsafe"  by the group Transportation for America.

Michigan has about 11,000 bridges. The group says 1,354 of those could be dangerous.

So, if more than 1 out of 10 bridges in Michigan is  "unsafe," how bad are they really?

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

A push for change in Michigan term limits

There are efforts underway to change Michigan’s term limits amendment. Representative Joe Havemen (R-Holland) says the current lifetime limit of six years to serve in the House and eight years in the Senate are too short and consequently, legislators are lacking experience. Term limits were approved by Michigan voters ten years ago, and changing that amendment would also require voter approval.

Town hall to be held for road repairs

Lawmakers are expected to discuss how to pay for improvements to the state’s roadways at a town hall meeting tonight in Grand Rapids. Michigan Radio’s Lindsey Smith reports, "the public will get a chance to weigh in on Governor Snyder’s proposal to raise more than a billion dollars a year. Snyder wants to raise vehicle registration fees and the gas tax to cover the costs, but the Legislature passed a budget last week that only included a fraction of the money he wanted."

Michigan faces class action lawsuit from students

The state of Michigan may be facing a class action lawsuit over a student loan program. Starting in 2003 the Michigan Students First program provided a subsidy to people after they paid their first 36 loan payments on time, but that subsidy ended in 2010. Attorney Jeff Hank says that left thousands of Michiganders with much more to pay on their student loans. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports that the lawsuit could end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Michael Gil / Flickr

It seems there is at least one thing we can agree on in our state: the need to fix our roads, potholes, crumbling bridges, and decades-old infrastructure. But we can’t seem to agree on how to pay for it.

As we’ve talked about before on Stateside, Gov. Snyder says he wants more than a billion dollars just this year to fix the state’s roads and bridges. The Governor floated the idea of an increase in the gas tax and drivers paying more vehicle registration fees. Neither of those proposals, however, has gained traction in Lansing.

Now the state budget becomes almost complete with only some $350 million in road funding.

All of this leads to the question: Why is it so hard to find a way to fix our roads?

Craig Thiel is a Senior Consultant at Anderson Economic Group here in Michigan. He recently wrote a piece in Bridge Magazine entitled “Will there ever be a good time to fund road repairs?”

Thiel joined us in the studio today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

There's a growing push in Michigan to start exporting more food like soy beans, cherries, and blueberries internationally. We took a look at the consequences for farmers, consumers and the state economy if more Michigan-grown food leaves the state.

And, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has thrown her hat into the 2014 Senate race, a seat open because of Carl Levin's retirement. We talked to Land about why she wants to be the Republican nominee.

Also, two native Ann Arborites have created a brand new social media website called Hubski. The two co-founders joined us today to tell us all about it.

First on the show, it seems there is at least one thing that we can agree on in our state: the need to fix our roads, potholes, crumbling bridges, and decades-old infrastructure.

What we can’t seem to agree on is how to pay for the fixes.

As we’ve talked about before on Stateside, Governor Snyder says he wants more than a billion dollars just this year to fix the state’s roads and bridges.

The Governor floated the idea of an increase in the gas tax and drivers paying more vehicle registration fees. Neither of those proposals however, has gained traction in Lansing.

Now, the state budget becomes close to complete with only some $350 million in road funding.

So, all of this leads to the question: why is it so hard to find a way to fix our roads?

Craig Thiel is a Senior Consultant at Anderson Economic Group here in Michigan and he recently wrote a piece in Bridge Magazine titled, “Will there ever be a good time to fund road repairs?”

Craig joined us in the studio today.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Gasoline prices have risen sharply during the last few days.

"GasBuddy.com" pegs Michigan’s average price per gallon at $3.85. That's up ten cents from a week ago, and it's 20 cents higher than the national average. Many gas stations are already charging $3.99 a gallon, with a few charging more than four dollars. 

Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy. He says prices are not rising because of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday.

Laskoski blames refinery problems in Indiana and Illinois for prices pushing four dollars a gallon. 

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