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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?

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4x4s and other off-road vehicles could be allowed on many more Michigan roads, under a bill that’s headed to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk.

Currently, ORVs can drive on the shoulders in the Upper Peninsula and eight counties in the Lower Peninsula.

John Chad is director of Happi-Trails ATV Club in Grayling. He says the changes would be great for local riders and increase tourism.

If you had the idea that our elected representatives in the legislature were mature, rational adults, yesterday might have cured you of the idea.  As many of us know, the state’s roads are falling apart.

Yesterday, the Transportation Asset Management Council said that less than 1/5 of Michigan Roads eligible for federal highway funding are in good shape. A third are in poor condition. The rest are in fair condition, sliding towards poor.

Roads, by the way, don’t heal themselves, especially when heavy trucks keep driving on them. Local roads, which are not eligible for federal assistance, are in far worse shape, with slightly over half in poor condition.

Even the expressways aren’t great. Sixty percent are in fair condition, 16 percent poor. Those roads, however, are most likely to be improved. The rest of the system is what we need to worry about, unless you never plan on going anywhere, or you drive a military surplus tank.

There was a lot of criticism of President Obama for devoting so much time to his health care plan during his first year and a half in office. Some felt he should have also tried to get through a massive job creation plan, or a program to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. However, he did succeed at getting what we now call “Obamacare” passed, and it is now transforming medical coverage.

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Governor Snyder says he wants more than a billion dollars just this year to pay for road and bridge repairs.

Our state has seriously bad roads that lawmakers in Lansing appear to agree on.

How to pay for road repairs is a whole other story.

We’ve talked a lot on Stateside about the different options to raise the money for these repairs.

Many Republicans appear unwilling to vote for any increase in taxes.  Amidst facing a possible primary challenge, would Republicans consider voting for any possible legislation?

There have also been concerns that this funding increase would mean local governments and schools would lose upwards of $850 million in funding.

For months, Governor Snyder has been trying to get support from lawmakers, but we haven’t seen a whole lot of progress on how to increase funding.

Recently, a state House committee has begun hearings on a road funding strategy.

Chris Gautz is the capitol correspondent for Crain's Detroit Business. He sat down with us on Stateside to give us the details of the new proposal and how exactly it would work.

Listen to the full interview above.

cncphotos / flickr

This week in Michigan politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss funding proposals to fix Michigan’s roads, the number of lottery winners on welfare, and how a human rights ordinance is moving forward in Royal Oak.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The conservative group that pushed for Michigan to become a Right-to-Work state wants Governor Snyder to drop his call for higher taxes to pay for repairing Michigan’s roads.

The governor wants the Legislature to approve higher gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees to raise more than a billion dollars to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads.

Scott Hagerstrom is the state director of Americans for Prosperity. He says Michigan shouldn’t be raising taxes.

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.

Potholes
Peter Ito / flickr

Governor Rick Snyder is pushing lawmakers to act soon to adopt a plan to raise more than a billion dollars in new revenue for roads and transportation projects.

He wants a revenue package ready in time to for projects to begin in the coming spring and summer construction season.

A deal does not seem to be near, but lawmakers are discussing different ideas.

The governor says that’s promising.

"Obviously, there are pros and cons to any approach. There are no perfect answers, but there are good answers that should be possible out of this," said Snyder.

The governor says he’s pleased there seems to be general agreement that roads need to be fixed - even if there’s no agreement yet on how to pay for it.

One proposal would raise the sales tax by a one cent.

That would have to approved  by voters.

That idea would have to clear the Legislature this week to appear on the ballot in May.

Pretty much everyone knows that our roads are in terrible shape, and need to be repaired.

However, at the same time, pretty much everyone also doesn’t want to pay to fix them.

We think somebody else should pay.

So far, Governor Rick Snyder has been the closest thing to a grownup on this issue. He reasons that those who use the roads, people otherwise known as drivers, should pay most of the cost.

That cost is pretty steep: Just to bring our existing roads back to acceptable condition will require $1.2 billion a year for at least the next ten years.

The governor proposes increasing the gas tax by nineteen cents a gallon on diesel fuel, fourteen cents on gasoline. This would be done at the wholesale level, which means the fuel companies wouldn’t necessarily have to pass them on to the consumer.

Okay, well, you’re allowed to laugh.

Snyder would also raise car registration fees by about 60 percent, and heavy truck plate charges by 25 percent.

Well, that plan seemed to bring people together: Everybody hated it.

Michael Gil / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Talk of putting part of a road funding plan on Michigan's May ballot is petering out.

The Republican leader of the state Senate says Tuesday the odds of putting a sales tax increase on the ballot by Thursday's deadline are below 10 percent.

Randy Richardville says lawmakers are pitching more ideas to fund road repairs, and some think discussions have been moving too quickly. Gov. Rick Snyder has called for increased gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees for road upkeep.

One idea is to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees, but also dump a sales tax on gas that doesn't fund transportation. To make up the lost revenue for schools and other spending, some Republicans want to ask voters to raise the 6 percent sales tax.

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Governor Snyder to make an announcement on Detroit's financial emergency

"Governor Rick Snyder is expected to announce today that he agrees with a review team’s determination that Detroit is in a financial crisis with no plan to solve it. That would set the stage for the governor to name an emergency manager to run the city later in March. There’s no official word on what the governor plans to do, but he has said the condition of Detroit’s finances is unacceptable," Rick Pluta reports.

Health care exchange and Blue Cross Blue Shield bills move forward

Michigan is moving forward on the Affordable Care Act. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"In a 78-31 vote, 29 Republicans joined with 49 Democrats [Thursday] to accept $30.6 million in federal money to set up a Web-based health care exchange where Michigan residents can easily go and investigate, and ultimately buy, the health insurance mandated under the act. The House also overwhelmingly passed a pair of bills that transforms Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan from a tax-exempt nonprofit into a nonprofit mutual insurer."

Lawmakers consider ballot proposal to raise sales tax to fund Michigan roads

Lawmakers have come up with a new idea to fix Michigan's roads. As the Detroit News reports,

"Republican lawmakers could take the first step next week toward financing Gov. Rick Snyder's $1.2 billion road improvements by trying to place a 1-cent sales tax increase on the May ballot."

It’s supposed to snow tonight. I have a late meeting in downtown Detroit, and that worries me. Not because I am going to be in Detroit at night, or because I may be driving in snow. It’s because I may not be able to see the potholes going home. Years ago, I lost a wheel to one on the Lodge Freeway at midnight, and one experience like that was enough.

Governor Rick Snyder has proposed a plan to fix Michigan‘s disgracefully deteriorating roads, a plan that makes as close to sense as anything politicians ever propose.

Our roads will need a lot of investment over a long time -- at least $1.2 billion a year. The governor is proposing the fair and rational idea that the cost of fixing the roads should be paid for by the people who use them. He would raise the wholesale gas tax by 14 cents a gallon, a little more on diesel, and also raise car registration fees.

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Michigan in for snow, sleet and rain today

"Snow, sleet and freezing rain are expected across the region today as part of a strong winter storm bearing down on the nation's midsection. It's expected to fall this afternoon and evening, and into tomorrow. More than 6 inches could fall in some places, including southeast Michigan. West Michigan could get 2 to 6 inches," the Associated Press reports.

Lawmakers talk roads funding

"State business leaders say Michigan lawmakers need to boost funding for roads now. The group says the cost of fixing roads only gets higher as time passes and roads get worse. The group says lawmakers should raise the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees to boost road funding," Jake Neher reports.

Mike Duggan to announce run for Detroit mayor

The former Detroit Medical Center CEO, Mike Duggan is announcing his run for Detroit mayor today. As the Detroit News reports,

"In an interview Monday, [Duggan] said his candidacy will be defined by the critical need for a strategy to fight violent crime and the case to limit (if not prevent) the tenure of an emergency manager in a long overdue turnaround of the city."

Some people are saying Michigan should have a part-time instead of a full-time legislature. I’ve always been against this. But from time to time, I can sympathize with the notion that maybe our lawmakers should only work part time so they can buckle down to business and get the important things done.

Yesterday provided a perfect example. Our roads are falling apart. Every day we put off fixing them means it will cost that much more in the long run. Every day we put off fixing them is another day that Michigan becomes less competitive.

The house I live in is 84 years old. Two winters ago, an ancient sewer pipe broke under our basement. This meant a mess and fairly expensive work. Was that convenient? No. Could we have spent that money in ways that would have been a lot more fun? Absolutely. But building and using an outhouse in the middle of a Michigan winter didn’t seem an appealing alternative.

Which brings us to the governor’s transportation budget. He wants to increase the gas tax by 14 cents a gallon and increase car and light truck annual registration fees by 60 percent, which sounds pretty steep. They say that will cost, on an average, $120 a year per car. It will cost me more, since I drive 30,000 miles a year. Money is tight for a lot of us.

Ingham County

U.S. 23 was shut down in both directions just south of Flint after a multi-vehicle accident was caused by a snow squall. At least 20 vehicles were involved. The Detroit News reports traffic is back up and running on northbound 23 :

A dispatcher at the Flint post of the Michigan State Police said traffic was moving again on northbound U.S. 23 as of 2 p.m., and that southbound would be reopened as soon as several cars were towed from the roadway.

Crews from the Genesee County Road Commission were also called in to erect barricades to move traffic away from the area.

And WOOD-TV reports that weather conditions caused a shut down on I-94 westbound near Paw Paw, Michigan just before 2 p.m. when two semi-trucks collided.

The National Weather Service reports that snow is expected to continue to fall across much of the state into tomorrow.

As a strong cold front moves offshore over the Atlantic, the cold air behind it will help produce lake effect snow across the Great Lakes region on Thursday and Friday. As much as 5-10 inches of lake effect snow is possible through Thursday night, with additional accumulation expected on Friday. In addition, temperatures 20-40 degrees below normal are forecast for the Upper Midwest.

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Judge says prisoners sentenced as juveniles should get parole hearings 

Judge John Corbett O'Meara says a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory no-parole sentences applies retroactively to Michigan inmates already behind bars.

There are more than 350 inmates in Michigan prisons serving life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles, and there's been a lot of debate about whether these inmate should get a shot at parole.

The Detroit Free Press has the story of one of those prisoners this morning.

...life has never been simple for Jennifer Pruitt. Her 37 years have been punctuated by turmoil -- a tough upbringing, a life sentence for murder, repeated rapes in prison and glimmers of hope that quickly got dashed.

Road funding discussions get underway in Michigan legislature

In his State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder made roads a top priority. He called for new revenue to support road building. Whether that will mean higher taxes or higher fees for Michigan residents remains to be seen. Jonathan Oosting of MLive reports the discussions will get underway soon:

... a joint resolution introduced by Republican Sens. Randy Richardville, Roger Kahn and Bruce Caswell offers a simple starting point for discussions: A constitutional amendment to raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 8 percent. As a trade-off for the increased sales tax, a related bill would eliminate the state's 19-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax.

Such a tax increase would require voter approval. Other plans, such as increasing gas taxes or registration fees, are being considered as well.

Investment in Pontiac, GM plans expansion

General Motors announced its consolidating some of its research and development operations and expanding its Global Powertrain Engineering Headquarters in Pontiac. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reports the company is expected to invest $200 million in the Pontiac facility.

GM estimates the move will move about 400 jobs now in various facilities to Pontiac. The investment is part of a GM commitment to invest $1.5 billion in North American facilities across the state and the country.

GM officials say employees will start transferring to Pontiac as soonas the middle this year, and the expansion will be completed in mid 2014.

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Critics of Governor Snyder's roads funding say weight limit an issue

Critics of Governor Rick Snyder's proposal to spend more than a billion dollars to fix Michigan's roads say the state should change it's weight limit on roads. Michigan has the highest weight limit on roads in the nation. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"They say if Michigan brought its weight restrictions more into line with other states, its roads and bridges would last longer. State officials acknowledge Michigan's maximum truck weight of 164,000 pounds -- just more than twice the federal weight limit."

Hathaway resignation could give Supreme Court a Republican 5-2 majority

State Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway officially resigned yesterday. As Kate Wells reports, "She's facing federal charges for bank fraud. But it's not just the political scandal: Hathaway was nominated to the bench by a Democratic governor. Now, Republican Governor Rick Snyder gets to choose her replacement. That could bring the court's tally to five Republican judges and just two Democrats."

McDonalds to pay fine to a Detroit-area restaurant over claim on Muslim dietary law

"McDonald's and one of its franchise owners have agreed to pay $700,000 dollars to members of the Muslim community. That's in an effort to settle allegations a Detroit-area restaurant falsely advertised its food as being prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. A spokesman says there's no evidence McDonald's set out to deceive customers," the Associated Press reports.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A special task force starts work this week to try to come up with a plan to better spend state tax dollars to fix Michigan’s roads.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is spending about a billion dollars building and repairing the state’s roads this year.

But to keep pace with what’s needed to just maintain the state’s infrastructure, its estimated Michigan would need to spend $1.4 billion.

State Senator Roger Kahn wonders if that money is being spent efficiently enough.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new federal transportation funding bill.

The last funding bill expired in 2009.   Congress has passed a series of extensions of the old law since then.  

A coalition of Michigan environmental groups and unions say the ongoing delay is hurting state roads.

Mark Schauer is the head of the BlueGreen Alliance.   The former Michigan congressman says the state’s roads are deteriorating, in part, because Congress can’t agree on a new six year federal transportation spending plan.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that had to replace a tire as a result of hitting a huge pothole," says Schauer.

Michigan Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton are on the special House-Senate conference committee working on the transportation bill. A spokeswoman for the committee says discussions continue with hopes of reaching an agreement before the deadline at the end of next month. 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Motorists are spending $4 for a gallon of regular gas in Troy and Okemos. And other parts of Michigan may soon join them. Michigan’s gasoline prices shot up 12 cents on Monday.     

Dustin Coupal is a co-founder of GasBuddy.com. He says increasing world demand for oil is pushing Michigan’s gasoline pricescloser to record high territory.

“Over time, it’s a definite certainty…whether it happens this week ….or next month," says Coupal, "Unfortunately higher gas prices are coming.” According to GasBuddy.com, Michigan’s average regular gas price is around $3.80 a gallon. The state set a record last May, when the average price hit $4.26 a gallon.

Ingham County

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation that will allow county boards of commissioners to dissolve and take over duties of county road commissions in Michigan.

The Republican governor signed the legislation Tuesday.

Appointed county road commissions could be dissolved by a majority vote of a county's board of commissioners. Voters would have the final decision on whether to dissolve road commissions in
counties where road commissioners are elected.

Supporters say the measures will save money by eliminating duplicative administrative costs.

Some critics say a vote of the people should be required in all counties because each road commission was created by such a vote, not just those with elected commissioners.

(Official state portrait)

Legislation that will allow county boards of commissioners to take over duties of county road commissions is expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Snyder is scheduled to sign the legislation Tuesday at the state Capitol.

The bills were approved by the Michigan Legislature earlier this month.

Supporters say the measures would save money by eliminating duplicative administrative costs.

Ingham County

Legislation that would allow counties to scrap their road commissions is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

Once the governor signs the bills, it would be up to county commissions to decide whether to get rid of their road commissions, and take over their responsibilities.

The bills cleared the state House today along largely party-line votes.

State Representative Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) voted against the measures.

She says it would be too easy for county commissions to divert money currently used for plowing and repairs to other purposes.

“I have sincere concerns about what will happen if the county road commissions are absolved into the county board and what will happen to those road funds,” said Byrum. “Currently, they’re designated to be used on roads but, I just - I have some serious concerns.”

But State Representative Dale Zorn (R-Ida) says county commissions won’t abolish their road commissions unless it makes financial sense.

“Because that, I believe it will work in some counties. In some counties, it won’t be as advantageous for them to do,” explained Zorn. “It really depends on how much money is being paid in the cost of administrative services.”

Road commissioners say the legislation puts too much local politics into road management.

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Voters may soon decide whether Michigan should scrap the 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gas at the pump in favor of a sales tax increase of 1 percent.

The change would help generate more money for transportation funding.

A proposal to put the question to voters is gaining momentum with some legislative leaders.

That change would require a constitutional amendment and put the question to voters on the ballot.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the measure. He said if taxpayers are asked to pay more to fix the state’s roads, they should have a voice.

Drivers in Michigan may soon pay nine cents more per gallon at the gas pump.

A package of bills that would change funding for the state’s aging bridges and roads has been rolled out at the state Capitol.

It would get rid of the fuel-tax at the pump in favor of a tax at the wholesale level. That would result in drivers paying a few cents more per gallon. 

Drivers might also have pay more to register their vehicles. The package of bills also includes a plan to increase vehicle registration fees by 67 percent.

That should generate about $500 million dollars for transportation.

State Representative Rick Olson (R-Saline) said generating money to maintain roads is similar to a driver changing the oil in a car.

"Why do you do that? Because you want to save your engine," said Olson. "Same thing with roads; unless we do some of this capital preventative maintenance on a timely basis, we’re going to have more and more roads fall into the ‘poor’ category when then it costs 6 to 8 times as much to repair."

There are no plans to turn any of the state’s major highways into toll roads. But Olson said the conversation could come up in the future.

"Oh, it’s a possibility, but I don’t hear anyone pushing that at this point. Toll roads, tolls are a relatively inefficient way to collect funds for roads," said Olson. "Does create jobs, but those are government jobs, so why not then create the net revenue the most efficient way we can."

The package of bills also includes a plan to create a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan. 

Governor Rick Snyder called on lawmakers to find about $1.5 billion in additional revenue to adequately fund transportation needs.

Fixing the roads

Jan 23, 2012

To say that Governor Rick Snyder isn’t popular these days with Democrats,  liberals and even some independent voters would probably be an understatement. Many were upset by his decisions to cut education spending in order to drastically lower business taxes. Others weren’t happy that the state is now taxing pensions.

And there was widespread unhappiness when Snyder signed a bill that prevents state and local governments from offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees. Polls indicate that some who voted for him fourteen months ago wouldn’t do so today.

Flickr user fellowship of the rich

A package of bills soon to be introduced in the Michigan Legislature is expected to propose higher vehicle registration fees and tax changes to raise more money for road repairs. The bipartisan bills will have support from Republican Governor Rick Snyder. He says Michigan is under-investing in its roads to the tune of $1.4 billion a year.
    

Snyder says it would make more financial sense to start addressing the problem now. The repair bill will be even worse the longer Michigan waits to address the problem.
    

Bernt_Rostad / flickr

Some state lawmakers hope to settle a decades-old controversy over how people use public access points to inland lakes.

In some places, it’s an annual tradition for people to set up a neighborhood dock at a road end access point. But some lakefront property owners complain about people and boats crowding the road ends. Often, the arguments wind up in court.

“Our water resources need to be open and accessible to the people, but on the other hand, we have to ensure that the rights of waterfront owners are protected, too,” said Hugh McDiarmid of the Michigan Environmental Council.  “So I don’t think the legislation will end the dispute, but it might provide the framework to resolve disputes a little more easily.”        

A bill before the state Senate would make it a misdemeanor to install a dock or permanently tie a watercraft unless a local ordinance allows it. The law would allow fines of 500 dollars a day for violations.

“It’s always good to know what’s expected there and what you can and cannot do,” said Kent Wood of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “The more that you can clarify exactly what activities are allowed and what’s not allowed, that could go a long way in clearing up a lot of these issues.”     

Wood says his group wants to make sure any new law helps doesn’t make it harder for people to access lakes.

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