Opinion: Don’t jump on the roads bandwagon

April 24, 2013

A letter to the editor

by State Representative Ray Franz.

A lot is being said lately about roads and funding, and the horrible condition of both.  Of course the immediate response is that the government must raise more revenue to “invest” in the transportation system.  I believe we need to step back, take a breath and really look at the issue in a broader view so we can weigh all the consequences of the various proposals being mentioned.  This way, Michigan can plan and prepare for the future, before we rush head long into yet another crisis.

It’s obvious to anyone that’s been behind a steering wheel that some roads are in need of repair and replacement – some desperately.  Even so, the majority of the main roads are available at maximum speed.  The question is how to maintain and even improve that standard before they reach a critical deterioration. To be honest, it is not like Michigan does nothing about its roads — the state collects and spends about $3.5 billion a year on transportation.

However, not all of that money is spent on our roads and bridges.  There is a sizable amount redirected for such things as bike paths, streetscapes, signage upgrades, the departments of DNR and Treasury, mass transit subsidies and a host of other needs, all of which are certainly worthy and easy to justify. However, it all does spread our thin resources even thinner. If roads are so in desperate need, perhaps it is time to consider refocusing the state’s priorities — especially in these hard times when people recognize that fixing road and bridges is a necessity yet have so far largely spoken against increased gas taxes and registration fees.

Another issue about the call for more gas taxes and vehicle fees in the current plan for “infrastructure investment” is that those dollars would not just fix roads and bridges, as most would assume. Light rail, channels and piers, and a host of other items also fall under “infrastructure” and would take a slice of the increased funding.  It all comes down to the fact that the administration wants a larger percent of dollars for the Michigan Department of Transportation — from about 39 percent to 50 percent — which will leave less for local road needs, where some of the largest potholes are found.

We are taking steps in the right direction by discussing and debating various ideas for fixing our roads. I remain concerned for Michigan residents caught in between the challenge and solution, though, because most of the answers so far will be taking another $1.2 billion out of people’s pockets. Even though road construction and bridge work does create much needed jobs, we also have to consider that taking that money out of household budgets can cost the economy, which also affects job creation and commercial expansion.

My thought for now is to not jump on the bandwagon, at least not yet.  We need to take a serious look at all the alternatives, and see what develops. Michigan’s outlook is improving with the help of the government reforms and budget restructuring we’ve accomplished so far.  Mom always said “patience is a virtue,” so maybe, just maybe if we allow the state’s new fledgling growth to develop there will be a solution without more new taxes put on hard-working residents.

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