An investment we cannot afford to ignore
By state Rep. Rob VerHeulen, 74th Distrtict
In his 2014 State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder laid out an impressive list of accomplishments made over the last three years. I share his enthusiasm and have supported many of his measures since I took office just over a year ago. However, one of his priorities remains unfinished and must be addressed: the condition of our roads.
A national transportation research group, TRIP, recently released a new study which placed the cost of deficient roads at $7.7 billion annually. The costs result from higher operating costs, traffic crashes, congestion and safety issues. The study also noted nearly 27 percent of Michigan bridges show significant deterioration or are currently not meeting safety standards.
According to the study, the average driver in Grand Rapids pays $327 per year in additional maintenance costs from tire alignments, flat tires, bent wheels or auto crashes. Virtually every expert agrees that failure to preserve our roads will lead to much higher costs in the future. Gov. Snyder uses the example of oil; you might be able to skip an occasional oil change without damage, but if you fail to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle the ultimate cost will be much higher.
The condition of our roads will also impact our ability to attract and retain jobs in Michigan. A recent survey of Michigan businesses suggest that employers look at the quality of a region’s transportation system when deciding where to grow their business. If we fail to address this problem soon, we may see Michigan’s best in the nation job growth rate drop as employers look elsewhere.
Michigan invests less per capita in its roads than its neighbors. The per capita investment in our roads is $174 per person compared to $187 in Indiana, $231 in Wisconsin, and $235 in Ohio and Illinois. Part of the lack of funding is that our 19 cent per gallon gas tax does not provide the revenue that it did historically. This tax is an excise tax based on each gallon of gas sold and is not based on the price of gas. Revenue from the gas tax peaked in 2001-2002 and has declined
each year thereafter. While it is a good thing that we are consuming less fuel due to increased fuel efficiency, increased use of public transit and other factors, this has created a funding issue for our roads.
In the current fiscal year, the Legislature was able to identify more than $250 million in increased investment from the General Fund. Last month the Michigan Department of Transportation announced road projects across the state. With the economy recovering and a “surplus” predicted for the next fiscal year, I am hopeful that we will be able to invest an even greater amount in our roads. However, it is estimated that we need to invest an excess of $1 billion to maintain our roads.
Michigan has many competing interests for its limited funds. Education, human services, community health, corrections, and natural resources are all important and compete for state appropriations. All benefit from making road funding a priority and one that returns value. Moody’s recently suggested that every additional dollar spent on infrastructure generates a $1.44 increase in gross domestic product.
When I met with groups of constituents I took a poll on how many believe we need to invest more in roads. The overwhelming majority say invest more. The challenge comes in finding the best method to fund our roads over the next decade and beyond. I will continue to advocate for making road funding a top priority and encourage all Michiganders to remind me and my colleagues that roads impact everyone in Michigan and are critical to our future success.
The 74th District encompasses the cities of Walker, Grandville, Rockford and Cedar Springs, as well as Solon, Tyrone, Sparta, Algoma and Alpine townships.