Opinion: Paving the way for a more efficient use of road dollars

September 30, 2019

Rep. Jack O’Malley

Opinion: Paving the way for a more efficient use of road dollars

Letter to the Editor: By State Rep. Jack O’Malley

Letters to the editor are opinion editorials submitted by readers. Letters to the editor are a long tradition in American journalism. The views and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Mason County Press, its staff or its parent company. For more information, please refer to MCP’s Op/Ed policy.

Over the past few months, you’ve surely heard a lot about how much money we’re spending on our state’s roadways and how much is enough.

But are we spending as smartly and efficiently as we can?

Since I began my first term representing the 101st District in the Michigan House, I have participated in town hall gatherings at almost 20 different places across Michigan to talk with residents, local officials and construction representatives about our state’s roads.

I assumed the position of chair in the House Transportation Committee as part of the 100th Legislature, so I realized I needed to get smart quick on our state’s roads by talking with experts and hearing testimonials from the people actually using the product.

As I continued through these discussions and learned more, the answer to the question posed above – are we using available resources the best we can – was unequivocally ‘No.’

What became clear was a lack of tools in the toolbox for our local communities when it came to road repairs. We needed to look at our current regulations and make tweaks so areas across the state had more flexibility and freedom to fix roads for their residents.

And fundamentally – that makes sense. It’s nearly a 10-hour drive from Copper Harbor in our Upper Peninsula to Detroit, with many counties, cities, villages and townships in between. Local communities and officials are more in tune with local road quality than a centralized entity such as Lansing. Our laws can be more practical to reflect that reality.

I recently unveiled a bipartisan legislative package with the minority chair of the House Transportation Committee, state Rep. Tim Sneller (D-Burton), providing locals with this flexibility. The proposals encourage more collaboration between state and local officials to save on costs, change spending structures to allow counties and communities to spend road money how they see fit, and reform construction work requirements to allow crews to work later or earlier in the year if weather allows. They also put in place forward-thinking methods that account for technological advancements with roads and what’s driving on them. Now and into the future, these plans will get more mileage out of our investments in infrastructure and help get more roads fixed from driveway to highway – where it’s needed the most.

The governor’s 45-cent per gallon gas tax was unpopular for many reasons, but two significant issues were a lack of say from the people and too few dollars going to rural areas for roads from the new funds. A bill I have proposed within our wide-ranging plan instead will give counties the ability to enact a local fuel tax through a ballot measure. If approved in a vote, this would ensure counties – whether metro or rural – can put what they collect at the pump toward their own roads instead of shipping that revenue elsewhere. Opponents will say this plan would cause people to drive to the next county over to buy gas and hurt businesses in the process. I contend that if I know my dollar is going to keep the roads I drive on every day in good shape, I’m more likely to invest that dollar locally. The appeal of local circulation should not be underestimated.

Spending our dollars smarter so our road funding goes farther is this plan’s genesis – and the ideas came directly from input on how to repair our roads with what we have available to us. We have started hearing testimony on these bills in a series of House Transportation Committee meetings separate from budget negotiations. As is the case each year, we’ll have a dollar number for transportation funding with a signed budget. Regardless of what that number is, I want to make sure Michigan residents are getting the best value for their tax dollars when they start up their vehicle and hit the road. 

Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, is in his first term in the Michigan House of Representatives serving residents in the 101st District, which includes Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties.

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