Spinal Column: Michigan’s crumbling roads are unacceptable; we must act now

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

If you were to crisscross the great state of Michigan, visiting every town and village, travelling along every city street and back road and every state and interstate highway, you would end up driving on more than 120,000 miles of paved roadway—enough road to span the distance from Lansing to California and back more than 25 times.

We all know that this great network of roads can take us anywhere we want to go in the state. But we also know that our roads and bridges are in terrible shape—and that sometimes the trip just doesn’t seem worth the trouble.

I have yet to meet a Michigan driver who is satisfied with the condition of the roads. If you are like the average Michigander, you now pay $357 annually in unnecessary repairs to your vehicle due to damage caused by these roads. Perhaps you pay more.

But that’s not all. In addition to higher repair bills, our crumbling infrastructure contributes to injuries and lost economic growth.

Simply put, the economic, financial, and physical cost of our decaying roads is unacceptable.

This rapidly deteriorating infrastructure in Michigan is due to a serious lack of investment. Recent bills have brought this complex yet urgent issue of infrastructure funding to the forefront in the state Legislature.

Part of the complexity involved in finding a funding solution is that today’s vehicles have much better fuel economy than vehicles of the past. This results in lower revenues collected at the pump from the fixed fuel tax. At the same time, the costs of materials and labor continue to rise.

This leaves us with two options: invest now to fix the problems that have built up over the last decade, or continue to allow inaction by kicking the can down the road to future legislators.

The second option would result in an increasingly dilapidated infrastructure with repair costs that would continue to rise until the price tag is out of reach for those who would be stuck with the bill—our children and grandchildren.

So the answer is to invest now. I recently supported a common-sense plan that adopts the invest-now approach in a responsible manner. The plan eliminates the state’s current 19-cents-per-gallon gas tax and 15-cents-per-gallon diesel tax in favor of a percentage wholesale tax on fuel, which is a more viable long-term funding approach.

Under the proposal sent to the House of Representatives for consideration, the wholesale tax would begin at 9 percent on April 1, 2015, and gradually increase to 15.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2018. This plan also takes important steps to increase fines for overweight trucks.

The plan the Senate passed will stop the deterioration of Michigan’s roads and bridges and put us back on the path to rebuilding and improving them. A modern, well-maintained infrastructure is essential to Michigan’s economy and quality of life. Further neglect will only cost taxpayers more in the long run and deter economic investment across the state. We cannot afford to wait any longer to fix our roads.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee. He serves the citizens of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.