michigan roads

Almost two years ago, I spoke to a group called CRAM, the County Road Association of Michigan. These are the folks who maintain Michigan’s streets and highways, both urban and rural.

I found these folks mainly had frustrating professional lives, trying to do too much with too few resources and being blamed for problems they weren’t being given enough money to fix.

Yesterday, however, some pundits may have been startled when their political action group, RUSH-PAC, announced it was endorsing Gov. Rick Snyder for re-election. That may surprise some because though the governor did announce a plan to raise revenue for the roads, he’s failed to get it through the Legislature.


A report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group cites a plan to widen I-94 through the heart of Detroit as one of 11 “highway boondoggles” nationwide.

The planned “mega-project” will add a lane in either direction from midtown Detroit through the city’s east side. It will also connect service drives, widen shoulders and rebuild some bridges along that stretch of the highway.


I-96 will open tomorrow (Monday, September 22), more than two weeks ahead of schedule.  The stretch was closed between Telegraph and Newburgh Roads in Livonia. The announcement was made today as Governor Rick Snyder and others gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and walk on the freeway. I-96 was closed in April to allow crews to reconstruct the 7-mile stretch. Crews rebuilt 56 miles of freeway, repaired 37 bridges, and reconstructed 26 ramps. The project area runs through Redford Township and Livonia. 

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

The state Legislature is scheduled to meet about 20 more days between now and the end of the year.

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, says he has two top priorities he’d like to accomplish before then. The first is to find a way to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. The second is to ease term limits on Michigan lawmakers.

Richardville says there’s too little experience in the Legislature, thanks to current limits.

“People in general say, ‘I like the idea of term limits.’ But I don’t think they’d like it to be as restrictive as they are. If they knew how quickly and how much turnover there was here, I think they would rethink it,” said Richardville.

Richardville says he’s considering a plan that would allow term-limited lawmakers to collect a certain number of petition signatures allowing them to run again. He did not say exactly how long lawmakers should be allowed to serve.

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.

Repair trucks on a Michigan road.
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. 

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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.

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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. 


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.

Road in need of repair.
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.


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.

Michigan roads
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.