michigan roads

Normally journalists never say how they vote, but I am about to violate that rule. Eight years ago, I voted to re-elect Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. I thought she was doing a good job; I still think she was less partisan and more practical than others who have held that post.

Yet I have a hard time recognizing that official in the Terri Lynn Land now running for the U.S. Senate. And yesterday, she unveiled an idea that may be one of the worst I’ve ever heard. If you ever leave your house, you know many Michigan roads are in bad shape. Gov. Rick Snyder does.

He’s been trying to get lawmakers to come up with $1.2 billion a year in new money to restore our crumbling roads and bridges. Actually, experts with the Michigan Department of Transportation, now say more like $2 billion a year is needed. The governor suggested getting this from a combination of increased registration fees and raising the state gas tax.

  This story was updated at 11:04 am (8/13/14)

As you probably know, the Michigan Legislature has been unwilling to come up with the money to fix our roads.

Michigan’s roads are in bad shape, and some in metro Detroit are going to be in worse shape after Monday night’s horrendous flooding.

That devastation is bound to raise new questions about our aging and inadequate storm drain systems, but don’t look for your lawmakers to do anything about that, either.

That’s because fixing things costs money, and too many of our lawmakers are stubbornly opposed to raising revenue for ideological reasons, or just plain lack the courage to raise taxes.

Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Michigan will receive is $115 million in special state funding this year for 124 specific road projects in certain districts.  This includes 38 projects in the metro Detroit region.

Crain’s Business Reporter Chris Gautz said most of the money will go to districts that are represented by Republicans, and about $41 million went to some districts represented by Democrats.

“For somebody in another part of the state that isn’t getting any money -- maybe if they are represented completely by Democrats -- they’re not going to see anything and they are wondering why their roads aren’t as important,” Gautz said.

Click here for a full list of the projects.

Guatz said there will also be about $1.5 million dollars for the Secretary of State’s office to help combat insurance fraud. 

*Listen to full interview above. 

Pothole in a road.
Wikimedia Commons

The living conditions in Michigan are crumbling and the residents aren't happy about it.

That's according to a report by the Michigan Economic Center, called The Michigan Dream at Risk.

It says that over the past 10 years, Michigan's legislators have cut support to the things Michigan citizens love most.

Because of this, Michigan's roads, outdoors, and schools are suffering.

The report suggests more than 60% of those polled favor funding for public investments.

John Austin is the Director of MEC.

Our Legislature’s refusal to do what’s needed to fix the roads made me remember a brilliant political move many years ago.

President Harry Truman was running for re-election, and his chances didn’t look good.

He was a Democrat, and had a Republican Congress that didn’t want to cooperate on anything he wanted. So he called them back for a special session during the campaign. He challenged Congress to pass laws the nation needed.

OK, let’s say I asked you two months ago which of these things our conservative Republican lawmakers would be most likely to do:

1.  Approve using state money to help beef up Detroit’s pension finds and vote to raise the minimum wage by almost $2 an hour over the next few years.

2. Or, agree to fix our totally awful roads.

My guess is you would have thought fixing the roads most likely, and boosting the minimum wage an impossible pipe dream. Well, guess what, raising the minimum wage was the first thing they did, followed by helping Detroit.

But they still won’t fix our horrible roads, even though that’s what voters want. What’s worse is that our bizarre Legislature seems to be drifting further away from dealing with the problem.

Democrats, by the way, control nothing. Their main role is to break ties between the different factions of Republicans.

Here’s what’s happening: Two Republicans are showing principled leadership.

First of all, Gov. Rick Snyder, who for years has called on lawmakers to do the right thing and come up with the money needed to fix our roads. Two years ago, he said that would cost at least $1.2 billion a year in new revenue for the next 10 years. Lawmakers did nothing. But after last winter, voters are up in arms. They want the roads, fixed, period, and they have a new champion: Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville of Monroe. He hasn’t always been a leader here.

A new study suggests that Detroit is the most dangerous city in the Midwest for pedestrians.

The study comes from the National Complete Streets Coalition, a non-profit that advocates modifying streetscapes to accommodate more than cars.

It calculated a “Pedestrian Danger Index” that ranked Detroit the 11th most-dangerous metro area in the country—and the most dangerous outside the South.

I think the low point in my faith in democracy came late this winter, soon after I had lost one tire to a pothole. I got home after nearly losing another on the lunar surface of a suburban Detroit mile road, just in time to hear a state senator claiming we needed another tax cut.

Well, I thought, I am now living in a Third World country. But guess what? That senator heard from his constituents, big-time. Before long, he was retreating from his tax-cut talk, legislative tail between his legs. Why?

To quote the leader of his caucus, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville R- Monroe, “I’ve heard the message loud and clear that the roads are messed up, and I think the most common phrase I’m hearing from back home is 'just fix the damn roads.'"

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A proposal to greatly increase Michigan’s gas tax goes before a state Senate committee tomorrow.

The proposal has already cleared the state House. Among other things, it calls for taxing fuel based on price, instead of volume. It would generate about $500 million in new tax revenue. That's about a third of what Gov. Rick Snyder and others say is needed to fix the 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. 

wikipedia

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.

Potholes
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.

Morguefile

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.

user nirbhao / Flickr

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.

net_efekt / Flickr

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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