michigan roads

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.

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.

Michigan roads
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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.

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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.

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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.

wikimedia.org

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. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - High-level talks over fixing Michigan's deteriorating roads are at a standstill.

Republican and Democratic leaders can't agree much on how to even proceed.

Feeling burned by passage of a right-to-work law, Democrats won't consider tax increases without public assurances that Gov. Rick Snyder will veto other legislation. Democrats want a repeal of a law guaranteeing better wages on government construction projects taken off the table, along with talk of dividing the state's electoral votes proportionally.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

There’s a plan in Lansing to raise registration fees for electric and alternative fuel vehicles. That money would help pay for road repairs and construction.

Right now, that funding comes largely from fuel taxes and registration fees.

Republican state Representative Mike Shirkey says that means people who drive electric cars and hybrids don’t pay as much to maintain roads.

“In times past that made perfect sense. But now, times are changed, and technology’s advanced, and now the long-term sustainability of funding anything based on gasoline or fuel consumption must come into question.”

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

House committee works on road repair plan

A state House committee is working on a $1.6 billion plan to pay for repair and maintenance on Michigan's roads.

"The plan would result in higher fuel taxes and driver fees. But it would also eliminate the six percent Michigan sales tax on fuel purchases," Rick Pluta reports.

Flint dumps contract with DWSD

"The city of Flint is dumping its contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Flint emergency manager Ed Kurtz signed a contract yesterday to get the city’s water from a new pipeline that’s being built from Lake Huron to Genesee County...A spokesman says the Detroit water department will have to look at its options  to try and recoup investments made to Flint’s water system," reports Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody.

Michigan addicts become eligible for insurance

Nearly 88,000 drug and alcohol addicts in Michigan will become eligible for insurance starting in 2014.

"Michigan health officials say the state's substance abuse care system will be able to handle the surge of people who will become eligible for alcohol and drug addiction treatment under the federal Affordable Health Care Act," the Associated Press reports.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

House and Senate plans for Department of Human Services differ

Republicans in the state Senate have approved a budget which would cut about 270 jobs from the Michigan Department of Human Services. This plan contrasts a more drastic budget cut passed by a House subcommittee yesterday which proposes eliminating more than 1,000 jobs from the agency. The Department of Human Services handles things like the state's child welfare, juvenile justice, and food assistance programs.

Governor Snyder hoping for a bipartisan solution to fixing state roads

Governor Rick Snyder is looking to Democrats to help design a bipartisan solution for fixing the state’s roads.

“Republicans control the House and Senate, but have not reached a consensus on how to raise the needed money. The governor says he’s asking Democrats as well as Republicans to put their ideas on the table in hopes of forging a deal,” Rick Pluta reports.

Disagreements over right-to-work sanctions

Sanctions for schools and colleges that ratified new union contracts were not included in state Senate budgets passed yesterday.

“Republicans in the state House want to punish schools for signing long-term contracts that would get around the state’s new right-to-work law. A Senate budget subcommittee on community colleges left the plan out of its recommendation,” reports Jake Neher.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The drive to fix Michigan's roads is centered on winning support from lawmakers for at least $1.2 billion a year in additional taxes and fees.

But hardly any attention is being paid to how that cash should be divvied up.

Gov. Rick Snyder wants the bulk of new revenue to go to a new fund that would pass along additional dollars to road agencies. Yet few specifics about how the money would be distributed have been released since his budget was unveiled two months ago.

Michael Gil / Flickr

Governor Snyder was crystal-clear in his State of the State address. Michigan’s roads are creaky, old and need to be fixed.

Just about everyone agrees with that. The big question is how to pay for those badly-needed repairs.

Governor Snyder wants to spend $1.2 billion each year for these road repairs. He’s proposed raising our gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

These proposals are not getting a lot of love, especially among Republicans who are not fans of anything that looks, smells, or sounds like a tax increase.

Which leads us to another idea afoot in Lansing. An idea that proposes that we can find the money from our existing budget, rather than increase revenue.

We welcomed the Capitol Correspondent at Crain’s Detroit Business Chris Gautz and Lansing reporter for the Detroit News Chad Livengood to discuss these ideas.

To hear the full story click the audio link above.

Official Portrait

Governor Rick Snyder made his pitch for higher taxes and fees to pay for roads in his third State of the State address.

He says Michigan needs at least a billion additional dollars in the coming year to pay for badly needed repairs to the state’s ailing infrastructure.  He may also need a plan to repair his strained relationships with Democrats to get what he wants.

Road in need of repair.
Peter Ito / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says he’ll outline a new plan to fund road improvements during his State of the State address on Wednesday.

The plan could include higher vehicle registration fees to pay for road projects and maintenance.        

Advocates for more state road funding say spending has not kept up with costs. State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said Michigan’s road system needs more help. But they have not been able to agree on ways to pay for maintenance and improvements.         

There’s another sign that winter never really came to Michigan this year.   And it can be found along the state’s roads.

Every year in preparation for the Spring thaw, county road commissions impose weight restrictions on trucks to reduce wear on roadbeds made brittle by winter’s cold.     But not this year.

About two/thirds of Michigan road commissions haven’t imposed restrictions, and most probably won’t, because freezing winter weather never materialized.    

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