WSW: Roads, Money And The "Third Rail" Of Michigan's Pothole Crisis

Mar 22, 2018

File Photo
Credit WMUK

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan says part of the reason Michigan’s roads continue to crumble is that the formula the state uses for distributing money for road repair is complex, and inefficient.


The CRC’s Research Director Craig Thiel recently wrote about Public Act 51. He says transportation taxes are collected by the state, and dedicated for the sole purpose of infrastructure. He says the money is allocated for state projects, and distributed to counties, cities and villages based on fixed percentages in PA 51. Thiel says the problem is that it doesn’t ensure that roads in the worst condition get the most attention.

Thiel says part of the problem with PA 51 is that it assumes that roads are in good condition, and that the money is being spent to maintain infrastructure. But he says when road infrastructure has been underfunded in the state for years, maybe decades, the formula does not account for varying road conditions. Thiel says there is prioritization of money based road conditions at the local level, but the state formula gives everyone an equal share of the pie.

Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation this week that accelerates spending state money on road repair. Thiel says the $175-million, or 8% increase, helps. But he says the problem is everyone will get same increase regardless of the condition of their roads.

While the formula may be inefficient, changing it is politically difficult. Thiel calls it the “third rail” of Michigan’s pothole crisis. He says voting for a tax increase to pay for road repair is already tough, but changing the formula for distributing the money will create “winners and losers.” Thiel says the last two transportation tax increases, in 2015 and 1997, did not include any discussion of changing PA 51.

Theil says the time to look at changing the formula is when there is new money for roads. He says that could alleviate the problems for communities that don’t get as much under a new system. Thiel says if PA 51 remains in place, fixing potholes in Michigan will take more time, and some communities will have to wait longer to see their roads fixed.