Although funding has been approved, most of the cities and counties won't see it until 2017, despite their roads being in dire need of repair.
(TNS) -- Orange barrels won’t start sprouting tomorrow as a result of the state Legislature finally passing a deal to fix Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges, but local officials are already beginning to plan for the increased dollars that will begin flowing into their coffers in the next two years.
As a result of the bills passed by the Legislature, revenues from an increased gas tax and registration fees will begin flowing into the state, counties and cities beginning in 2017. By 2021, an additional $600 million in general fund dollars are supposed to be dedicated to roads, raising $1.2 billion a year.
Ten percent of the new money from the gas taxes and registration fees — roughly $60 million a year — will go toward buses and rail. The rest of the new revenues from gas taxes and registration fees, as well as the $600 million from the state’s general fund, will be distributed based on the state’s formula for roads with 39% of the dollars going to the state, 39% to county road groups and the remaining 22% going to cities and villages.
For counties, that means a 69% increase in the amount of money that can be put toward road projects by 2021.
“People's expectations are not going to match the reality. The money isn’t coming until later years,” said Craig Bryson, spokesman for the Road Commission for Oakland County. “We have $600 million in projects and all should be done. The problem is not finding those projects, it’s choosing which ones to do first.”
In Macomb County for example, the $40.8 million the county got in fiscal year 2015, which ended Sept. 30, will grow to $69.2 million by 2021, according to estimated figures provided by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“That kind of money would make a huge impact,” said Bob Hoepfner, director of the Macomb County Department of Roads. “With an additional $29 million, we could really consider addressing those major reconstruction projects.”
Some pet projects include Mound Road from 14 Mile to 16 Mile; the other mile roads in Eastpointe, Roseville, Warren; and Utica Road in Fraser. Fixing up some of the county's 216 bridges, including two that are in such bad shape that they've been closed, also will be a primary target, he said.
“They’re bad. There are lots of potholes and it’s not cost effective to just patch the concrete anymore,” Hoepfner said. “And there are other roads that need work just as bad. That’s the juggling act that all road departments will have to do.”
In Oakland County, whose estimated totals will go from $64.7 million a year in fiscal 2015 to $109.7 million in 2021, the planning process is under way for what projects will take place. But the county also has to look at replacing up to $25 million in road equipment, like snowplows, road graders and drainage maintenance equipment that is well past its prime.
“One of the things that we’ve had to cut down on is drainage maintenance and more of the routine maintenance, like crack sealing and regraveling roads,” Bryson said. “There are a ton of those type of activities that we’ve had to reduce over the years. The tendency is to think about major road construction. But we have to think about routine maintenance as well.”
As far as projects that might get the green light when revenues start to gradually increase, Bryson said: “Sections of Dequindre come to mind, and Pontiac Trail and Maple Road all the way across the county, as well as sections of 12 Mile. There is no shortage of roads that should be reconstructed or resurfaced.”
The county also is having a philosophical discussion on the best approach to getting the roads into good shape, through total reconstruction or repaving.
“It’s a major balancing act of addressing the really bad roads or resurfacing OK ones,” Bryson said. “The amount of money we get in year one will be enough to do one to three major reconstruction jobs. Maybe we’ll get more bang for the buck with repaving projects.”
In Detroit, a clause was inserted into the bills that will allow the city to put 20% of the road money it gets into public transit, as opposed to the 10% most cities in the state can earmark for transit.
That will allow the city to greatly improve the bus system that 40% of the people in the city rely on, said Lisa Howze, the city’s director of governmental affairs.
“Clearly the additional monies will allow the city to repair more miles of road,” she said. “But with $11 million available for public transit, we’ll be able to make significant service improvements.”
She suggested that 24-hour bus service can be restored and routes can be expanded with the additional money.
“Having that latitude with the roads money is really important and gives us the flexibility to do different things,” Howze said.
One of the challenges facing all road departments is the certainty of the funding. The Legislature didn’t identify areas where $600 million in general fund dollars will come from. Republicans and Gov. Rick Snyder are counting on continued economic growth to bring more tax dollars into the state that can then be shifted to roads.
If that money from economic growth doesn’t materialize, future Legislatures might have other ideas about where general fund dollars should go.
“There’s some baggage in this package. There's $600 million is general fund money, but where is that going to come from?" Hoepfner asked. "The Legislature and the governor believe the economy will grow and there will be plenty of new money. I don’t know if that’s a great way to fund roads. But I’m very happy that we’ve started on a path to increase road money."
In Wayne, the county is waiting for more definitive numbers before delving into details of future projects, said James Canning, spokesman for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.
“We’re expecting to get some additional information next week, which will help us to better determine a funding breakdown over each year,” he said. “That will help us to determine which projects the money will support.”
©2015 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.