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State Transportation Update: Lawmakers Hit Brakes on FundingPrint

Thriving Communities | July 16, 2013 | By James Bruckbauer

Across Michigan, highway expansions threaten public support for more funding.

Gov. Rick Snyder spent the last two years urging the state Legislature to raise about $1.2 billion that he says is needed to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads. But so far, he’s been unable to mobilize enough legislative and public support to get it done.

To be sure, transportation funding is still a priority. Before legislators took off for their summer recess, they dedicated about $350 million of surplus general fund dollars to roads, and discussed several long-term funding bills. The Transportation for Michigan (Trans4M) coalition summarized a few of those bills here.

There’s little doubt among lawmakers that Michigan must come up with new ways to pay for maintaining its broad transportation network. What’s unclear, however, is whether or not the new money would be invested in repairing our crumbling roads, or on building new and wider highways.

Across the state, highway expansions threaten public support for more funding. For example, despite strong opposition, southeast Michigan transportation planners will move forward on a plan to spend $4 billion widening I-94 and I-75 through Detroit. In Grand Rapids, the Michigan Department of Transportation is spending $7 million in federal dollars widening US-131, even though the city’s master plan calls for taking the elevated highway down to a surface street.

And here in Grand Traverse County, road commissioners—despite major opposition and a clear need to repair most local roads—want to spend about $40 million on a new bridge that would span the Boardman River valley and bypass Traverse City.

So questions remain: Will the governor and lawmakers ever regain enough public support for new transportation funding? And, more importantly, is there enough accountability at the state and local level to ensure that new money is spent on fixing our crumbling roads rather than building new and wider highways?

We’ll see when the state House and Senate reconvene this fall. Stay tuned to Transportation for Michigan for updates.

James Bruckbauer is the Michigan Land Use Institute’s transportation policy specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at james@mlui.org.