By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald
If voters approve Proposal 1 this Tuesday, the state would generate an additional $1.2 billion a year for road construction.
However, it would not be until 2018 that state and local road agencies would receive the full amount on an annual basis.
Bill Anderson, executive officer to the Southeast Michigan Council of Government, said road agencies would not see the significant rise in funding for three years because the state’s transportation fund holds $2 billion in bonds that it is still paying back.
Another reason for the gradual road funding process was that Michigan doesn’t have the capacity in the private sector to do an extra $1.2 billion worth of road projects right away.
“There was a concern the cost of the projects would go up too fast,” Anderson said. “This would allow us to incrementally increase the amount of contractors and give them time to adjust to the increase in work.”
All county road commissions are expected to do well when it comes to increased funding.
Anderson said counties statewide could expect about a 70 percent increase in funding. With cities, the larger the municipality, the more money it would receive.
“We are not talking about St. Clair County doing 70 percent more projects, but maybe doing two, three times as many as they do now because much of its funding goes toward keeping roads operational.”
St. Clair County currently receives $10.6 million a year from the state transportation fund.
After the third year under Proposal 1, the county would get $17.8 million annually.
“This is a phased-in deal. The first year we will continue to pull projects within our transportation plan,” said Kirk Weston, St. Clair County Road Commission managing director. “The main thing we will do with this money is construct these roads like we are supposed to.”
By that, Weston refers to the quick way in which Michigan roads are patched together as a “temporary solution.”
The majority of what the county does are preventative fixes. But to work on a road properly, Weston said the road commission needs to work from the base and not just cover the top portion that is deteriorated.
The reason why the county hasn’t been able to address those issues?
It’s too expensive.
“If you are addressing the substructure, the dollar amount drastically increases to $1.2 million per mile,” Weston said. “If we did that, we would never get anything done.”
If Proposal 1 passes, the county would only receive $1 million to 2 million in the first year.
That additional road funding would not go as far as Weston would like.
“It sounds like a heck of a lot of money, but we have to be realistic,” he said. “If it is a $2 million increase, how far will that money go to do these things properly? We’re overlaying roads that probably should have their bases reconstructed.”
Bigger cities, more funding
Road funding is distributed using a formula that takes into account a city’s population and road miles it is responsible for.
Because of this, Port Huron would receive an additional $1.5 million — the most for any city within the county.
Port Huron uses its road funding for snow plowing, pothole patching, crack sealing and routine maintenance.
City Engineer Bob Clegg said none of the funding goes toward complete reconstruction.
According to Clegg, out of the 134 miles within Port Huron city limits, 6.7 miles of road would need to be reconstructed or resurfaced each year in order for the city to maintain its roads in the same conditions they are in today.
That would cost about $4.5 million a year.
“If this gets approved and the city gets that additional $1.5 million, it would go into this need of doing major maintenance on these roads,” Clegg said. “We have a good sense of where the needs are and we are prepared to move forward when funds are available.”
The city of St. Clair is looking to ask voters for a tax to pay for streets, but how much of a tax will depend on the fate of Proposal 1.
St. Clair is responsible for 29 miles of roads and receives $366,000 from the state fuel tax to maintain them. Under Proposal 1, the city would get $607,000 a year.
“That sounds like a lot of money, but I don’t think it will be enough for any community,” said Mayor Bill Cedar. “We use our money for everything from plowing to patchwork. It’s going to take more than what’s being proposed.”
Barry Kreiner, Marysville director of public works, said the city’s $655,000 in funding goes toward routine maintenance for equipment, signage and roads.
Marysville recently made plans to spend $2 million on five street projects. Those projects will use money through the city’s general fund as well as its road reserve balance fund.
“If we got the extra funding, we would do some more capital improvement projects on our major roads,” Kreiner said.
Don Tillery, Marine City’s police chief and interim city manager, said current funding is used for road repairs and the occasional reconstruction.
Tillery said he is not sure whether Marine City needs the additional funding.
“It’s so convoluted, it’s very difficult for people to ascertain whether it is a benefit, detriment or both,” he said. “More money is always good, but we will continue to function if Proposal 1 doesn’t pass. We still have money coming in from the state, it just won’t be as much.”
Algonac city manager Doug Alexander said the additional funding would go a long way toward maintaining city streets through resurfacing and reconstruction projects.
Alexander said the city budgets the majority of its funding for snow plowing and patching potholes. With leftover money, Algonac has a priority list of streets it can address.
Yale City Manager John Osborn said the city uses its road funding and the voter approved 1.5 millage for street repair, snow removal, patching and cleaning.
Osborn said the plan would not be to expand what the city already does. Yale would receive an additional $82,000 if Proposal 1 passes.
“We don’t anticipate building any new streets, but repair existing streets,” he said. “If we don’t have the funds we won’t do the work. The voted millage has kept us up to speed on road repairs.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 4, 2015)