You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, May 9, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Fuel tax hike needed to rebuild Michigan roads and our economy

By Tony Dearing

Counties in Michigan have returned some 100 miles of paved roads back to gravel because they couldn’t afford to maintain them.

That simple fact underscores what a state Transportation Funding Task Force warned us back in 2008, when it said Michigan isn’t just underfunding road repairs; it is now disinvesting in its roads.

Our highways and local roads are among the worst in the nation, and worsening every day. The task force and other groups, including the American Society of Civil Engineers Michigan Section, say the state faces a critical shortage of funding for roads, and must find new money to fix its crumbling streets and bridges. That revenue could come from a bill in the state House that would raise the gasoline tax by 4 cents gallon this year and another 4 cents a gallon in 2013.

In these hard economic times, we know there is little public appetite for higher taxes. But given how dire the condition of our roads is, and how important fixing them is to the economic future of Michigan, we support this proposal, as long as it is coupled with guarantees that the funds will not be misdirected and that best practices will be used in the repair and construction of roads.

The current miserable condition of our roads is obvious. In a national survey, truck drivers ranked Michigan roads as the second worst in the country. Here in Ann Arbor, the decrepit condition of the East Stadium Boulevard bridges is a constant reminder of how sorely we have neglected our infrastructure.

The issue has been studied to death, and these studies point to the same problem: Michigan just isn’t spending enough on its roads and bridges. Funding for roads was stagnant for a decade, and has fallen in real dollars over the past 18 months, as the struggling economy and reduced travel generate less revenue from fuel taxes.

This decline in state funding is a double-whammy, because it costs us federal dollars as well. Michigan will have to return almost $1 billion a year to the federal government because we lack the local dollars to match that money.

Hiking the gas tax

The proposed legislation would:

  • Raise the state gas tax from 19 cents per gallon to 23 cents in 2010, and to 27 cents in 2013.
  • Raise the state tax on diesel fuel from 15 cents per gallon to 21 cents in 2010, and to 27 cents in 2013.
  • These increases would raise an estimated $240 million this year, and up to $480 million annually beginning in 2013.

When we look at what’s necessary to rebuild our economy, rebuilding our roads is an essential ingredient. Key sectors of the Michigan economy, including manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, depend on transportation. According to the 2008 task force report, Michigan would need to spend $6.1 billion a year to meet its basic needs for road and bridge work - about twice what it’s spending now.

Michigan has not increased the fuel tax since 1997, a reminder that dealing with this issue in better economic times would have reduced the severity and cost of dealing with it now. But deal with it we must. A bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, would generate an additional $240 million a year for roads now, and $480 million a year once it goes fully into effect.

Raising the fuel tax is a simple and direct solution; those who use the roads pay for their improvement. We’re sensitive to concerns about raising fuel costs, but this bill would inflict little pain at the pump. A person who drives 15,000 miles a year in a car that gets 20 mpg would pay an extra $30 annually. That’s a bargain, given estimates that driving on bad roads costs the average motorist anywhere from $400 to $500 a year.

While we see the need for a modest increase in the fuel tax, we can only support it if it is coupled with a high level of accountability. In the past, money meant for roads has been diverted to other purposes, and an iron-clad guarantee against that must be built into any legislation. It also makes little sense to invest more in roads without addressing the factors that cause roads to worsen prematurely, including weight limits for trucks and inadequate construction standards that result in roads needing repair again just a few years after they were resurfaced.

The proposed legislation specifically states that money from a higher fuel tax must be placed in a Transportation Investment Fund that the state may not dip into for other purposes. But it does not address better construction standards for roads, and we believe it must.

Higher taxes are not the answer for every problem facing Michigan. But if we’re going to turn this state around, we have to be willing to invest in something as vital as infrastructure. Our streets and bridges are crumbling. If we continue to neglect them, we risk sending our state down a road of perpetual decline - and one filled with potholes at that.


American Family

Tue, May 11, 2010 : 7:56 p.m.

I 100% agree with SonnyDog09. No to new taxes!! Use the taxes we already pay more efficiently.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Tue, May 11, 2010 : 7:58 a.m.

I am quite certain that I pay more in taxes than many of the posters on earn, and I'm willing to pay more. Taxes are the price one pays for civilization. Good Night and Good Luck


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 8:11 p.m.

I think it's interesting that the root of the funding problem hasn't been mentioned, it's the fact that the tax isn't indexed to inflation. Blame other things, but all the costs (labor, materials, gasoline) have been rising and the amount we've been collecting is flat.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 4:49 p.m.

Stunhsif said, '@ChuckL, You said, "and an even bigger diesel tax on trucks". I am in the trucking business and we charge our customers right now around an additional 19% on their total freight bill. Two summers ago the fuel surcharge was 38% when diesel hit almost $5.00 per gallon. You wanna tax me more, I just pass it on to you my friend. I haul anything and everything you buy for your daily living so go ahead and make yourself pay more. I am not going to take the hit, you are!' Please do pass on the cost of the diesel tax! I want prices that reflect the actual costs. All of the experts say trucks do not pay for the damage they do to our roads and I am tired of paying to replace my windshields from all the rocks left on the road by the gravel haulers. In fact, I would love to see a special tax on gravel haulers to pay for all the broken windshields created by their presence on the road. Michigan is also one of the top states for broken windshields in the country; this is not a contribution to GDP that does very many people much good.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

MDOTs construction methods are deeply flawed. There are so many issues, where to start? 1)My former bank director, State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith once hosted a conference in Lansing on this topic and the concrete construction industry formally stated that they would guarantee Michigans roads would last 30 years via warranty if they actually followed the correct best practices for building roads (MDOT does not). For example, they use mesh rebar instead of straight rebar. Because the vertical rebar is connected horizontally to each other with this mesh, this causes the roads to flex in all dimensions and not just one and creates microcracks. Microcracks get infiltrated with water and in the freeze/thaw cycle tear up the roads. 2)The top coat on any paving job not using concrete should be with trap rock, a much harder surface that allows the road to last much longer. 3)The legislature in their infinite wisdom decided to double the number of highway projects each year, so they could all brag about bringing highway jobs to their district. They accomplished this by spending half as much per mile of construction/reconstruction performed. This forces them to cut many corners in the process and leaves us with substandard roads. 4)The contracts for construction dont have adequate safeguards for quality. Witness the painfully long process of completely rebuilding M-14 a few years ago which was delivered by the contractor Day One with giant rectangular holes down the highway (now filled with asphalt and breaking up into potholes). A good warranty would solve the problem. 5)@scooterdog's example of a lack of inspectors on the road construction jobs is excellent that stretch of highway will last just as long as M-14 did! 6)Add your favorite reason I havent yet met a Michigander who didnt have their own excellent reason for why the roads are in such bad shape and being reconstructed continuously. We come up with them while sitting in the traffic jams caused by orange cones! @stunhsif Each fully loaded truck does 100,000 times more damage than a passenger car on the road. Damage grows exponentially not in a linear fashion, so Im very unimpressed that your tractor trailers pay 20x as much in diesel taxes than cars. @Jon Saalberg pointed out some good stats. One basic problem here is that we destroyed Michigans railroad system by subsidizing trucks by not paying enough for the damage they do. @Edward R. Murrow has some good comments on that topic. If trucks had to pay their fair share, it would revive the railroad industry in Michigan and that would save everyone money on their transportation costs unfortunately, your subsidy and subsidized profits would go away. In fact, if no trucks traveled the interstates and they were made correctly, they would last FOREVER. Some Roman roads made 2,000 years ago with concrete are still in good shape. @stunhsif I agree with your comment about needing to get rid of the 40 wheel gravel trailers. They destroy the roads. Anyone living downtown has noticed the extreme damage to our major thoroughfares by the heavy construction trucks hauling steel and heavy construction material to the downtown construction sites. The true cost of the new Ashley Mews high rise, the new City Courthouse building, the DDAs Big Dig underground parking lot and the expansion of Michigan Stadium to the taxpayers does not take into account the fact that we will need to replace Huron St., Washtenaw Ave., Main St. and Jackson Road because the paving is buckled and grooved from these heavy weights. @Edward R. Murrows comments about the gravel trucks tearing up South State St. are a good example of this problem.

scooter dog

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.

I'll give you all a good example of wastefull spending for highways I-94 between parker rd and freer rd. Their taking out the busted up concrete and replaceing with new and putting asphalt down over the existing concrete Last friday night it rained hard all night yet they layed new asphalt in the rain.When I went thru there a 430 am there was so much standing water on the road you were driving at a crawl,yet they were paving the road. I worked for a asphalt company for many years and the first thing you do is put down oil based hot tar on a DRY surface for the new asphalt to adhear to,so how is the new asphalt going to stick to the old surface when they do it in the rain,and where was the MDOT inspector when all this was going on.I didn't see any of there red dodge pick-ups anywhere I'll bet this really last a long time

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 12:06 p.m.

treetown: Weigh stations across the state are closed more often than their open--the result of budget cuts.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 11:16 a.m.

With respect to gross vehicle weight of commercial trucks, ever notice how there are not any weigh stations close to the southern and candian borders, lets them off scot free for being overweight.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 10:49 a.m.

Railroads carry how much of the nation's freight? In 2007 "Trucks moved manufactured goods and raw materials weighing a total of 9 billion tons and valued at $8.4 trillion more than two-thirds of the value and weight of freight shipped in the nation." "Rail was the second most-used mode by weight. Railroads moved 1.9 billion tons of freight, representing a 15 percent share. But by value, railroads transported $388 billion worth of freight, or 3 percent of the nations total." This is at: By my math trucks, not railroads, carried 80% of the nation's freight. And when one discounts the coal that railroads haul from Wyoming and from the Eastern Coal fields (something trucks do not haul but for short distances), the percentage of freight hauled by truckers is even larger. And so that does not delete this fact-filled discussion as being "off topic", let me bring this back to the point of the base article. With trucks carrying 80% of the nation's freight on roads subsidized by taxpayers, with trucks causing most of the damage on the nation's roads, why should not the trucking industry pay for the true costs of its operation by paying for repair of the damage on the road that it causes? Get government out of the business of road repair? What, exactly, does that mean? The vast majority of road repair and road construction is done by private construction companies. Do you think they'll do a better jog if the gov't just turns over the money to them and let's them operate as they wish? Yeah, that's worked real well in the Gulf of Mexico with BP and Halliburton. Just ask the people there.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

Yes, stunshif, I understand how UP and BNSF piggyback. They do it without the subsidies received by the trucking industry. They do it very efficiently with unions. They do it very fuel efficiently and therefore in a much greener manner than does the trucking industry. And were it not for the subsidized "rails" that is the Interstate Highway System, they'd do more of it. What is it about the trucking industry that requires government subsidies (i.e., corporate welfare)for its operations where long haul railroads do not?


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 10:19 a.m.

Trucking is "corporate welfare". And a frog's behind is not waterproof. Rail still hauls by tonnage 80% of the freight and rail is far more profitable than trucking so please don't make it look like rail is doing poorly compared to 60 years ago. What you say has no basis in fact. Rail cannot get everything everywhere on a timely basis compared to trucking. BTW Mr. fun-fun-fun we use rail to and from the west coast, it is called piggybacking. As for saying that trucking/transport companies don't pay their fair share, I say, go ahead and raise taxes on truckers. It will simply cause more of them to go belly up, will create less competition and the increased costs will be passed along to you. That is fine with me. But the better idea might be to have the government ( state government) get out of the business of road repair, dump the unions and privatize 100%. Till then, I will never be for a tax increase on gas or anything else until the government cuts out the fat.

Jon Saalberg

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 9:22 a.m.

As long as Michigan allows tremendously loaded trucks (164,000 pounds gross vehicle weight!) to travel our highways, this is a waste of money.Coupled with lower gross truck weights, Michigan needs to push rail transport of goods, and lessen our state's reliance on truck-transported goods.Also, I found this quote from a DOT study: According to the U.S. Department of Transportations Highway Cost Allocation Study, trucks weighing 80,000 to 100,000 pounds pay just half the cost of the damage they cause to our highways. The study also found that trucks weighing more than 100,000 pounds pay even less only 40 percent of the damage they cause.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 8:42 a.m.

I agree with this article completely. The state has NO choice left but to increase the gas tax. Our horrible roads will derail or delay an economic recovery if we don't do something about it. People who say cutting taxes and decreasing the size of government now to find the money are living in a dream world. The reality today is that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan out of work and not nearly enough money flowing into local and state government treasuries. The blame for the road mess has to fall completely on the politicians - both the current ones who are letting partisan politics get in the way of what's best for the state and its residents - and past politicians of the last 20 years who have neglected doing enough for the roads and re-channeled much-needed money out of the road fund to other pork-barrel projects. It's even more absurd when you realize Michigan has always proudly called itself the "Auto state". While state politicians were buying votes by playing up their support of the auto industry, behind the back of voters they've been selling Michigan's future by funneling money away from the roads. I think that the tax should be increased AND the law should have a condition that the money needs to STAY in the road fund. Also, I think somehow, trucks need to pay a higher burden of the increase for the fact that they cause a lot greater % of the damage. On a broader scale, BOTH state and federal politicians have been paying lip service for years about fixing this country's infrastructure. When campaigning, they make promises that they never keep. It's been going on for many years now folks. Until we start holding politicians accountable for their mismanagement of this state and country, we'll continue to put up with teeth-rattling rides over decaying roads and bridges.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

Top Cat - You say that we pay one way or the other. We pay to repair our roads or we pay our mechanic? Then you claim that trucks do not pay for the damage they do? How can that be if the trucks are using the same roads as we with cars do?

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 8:28 a.m.

Cars weigh between 4000 lbs and 9000 lbs. DOT regulations "limit" trucks to 80,000 lbs GVW, though it permits states to issue permits to allow trucks to weigh more than that. Common sense tells one that an 80,000 lb truck does far more damage than does a 9,000 lb car. It initiates the damage no 9,000 lb car could and, once the damage is initiated (whatever the source), it makes the damage far worse far more quickly than would cars if there were only cars on the roads. Want proof?: Just look at the area around Ann Arbor Saline Road and I94. This is an area heavily trafficked by gravel haulers. After years of decay A2-Saline Road between Maple and Wagner was repaved last summer. No road in the immediate area looked like it did at the time--it was literally falling apart--and it was (and is) gravel hauler heaven. The on-ramps and off-ramps used by the gravel haulers onto I94 at A2-Saline Road also were falling apart (some of the ramps have been semi-repaired; others have not been touched). Go one exit down to State Street and you'll see nothing there like the damage at A2-Saline Road. stunhsif raises the fears of raised prices to consumers will be a result of higher fuel prices. Let me suggest that that will be the short-term result. The long-term result will be the movement of most long-haul goods to the far more fuel-efficient, far greener, and very efficiently operated railroad system. You see, what stunhsif seems not to understand is that 60 years ago we had a national freight railroad network second to none in the world (passenger is a different story). Then came along the National Defense Highway System (otherwise known as Interstate Highways). This was a boondoggle both for the construction industry and for the trucking industry. Ever since our tax dollars have been subsidizing that trucking industry to the tune of billions of dollars per year in a manner that the railroad industry cannot begin to compete with--the federal government did not underwrite BNSF's construction of a double-track mainline between Chicago and LA, nor do tax dollars support its maintenance. No, BNSF and it's stockholders did that. But every road in this country--the trucking industry's "tracks"--is maintained by taxpayer dollars. The trucking industry--represented by stunhsif--wants its "tracks" to be maintained by the government but is unwilling to pay the costs of that maintenance. And, on top of it, in ton of freight per mile traveled, the trucking industry is far more fuel inefficient and causes far more pollution than does the railroad industry (if you've seen the CSX ads on this, the facts it cites are correct) So I think it fair to say that the trucking industry is the recipient of "corporate welfare" that encourages a fundamentally flawed method of transportation. If stunshif and his trucking buddies want the roads fixed, time to pay for the damage they're doing.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 8:02 a.m.

Well said "belboz". I am certainly not pro union but I do make a serious effort to buy products made in Michigan and the USA if they are cost competitive. Buying automobiles from Michigan based companies ( GM--Ford--Chrysler) makes good sense if you live here because those companies pay huge taxes that support this state. It also can be as simple as shopping at Meijer rather than Kroger or Wal-Mart. Meijer has two huge DC's( distribution centers) located in Michigan, the other two don't have even one. Meijer's two DC's employ hundreds of people. That keeps jobs in Michigan rather than Ohio or elsewhere.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

So let's remove Michigan sales tax from all gasoline and diesel sales and then and only then up the gas tax to a fixed $.25/gal. all of it to repair roads. That would lower state taxes and increase road funding. Perhaps even grad the billions from the Feds that may be lost.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Don't we already pay a fuel tax? Don't we already pay property taxes? Don't we already pay income taxes? Don't we already pay sales tax? Taxes don't solve problems. They just move money. How about people focus on buying products (i.e. cars...) made in michigan. Then, perhaps we would have less unemployement, more people earning money, thus more revenue for the state, thus more money for the roads. Instead, we have way too many Toyota's, Honda's, Hyundai's, and the like. I bet the roads in Japan and Korea and China look pretty nice these days with all of the money the people in Michigan are sending them. It has to do with supporting our companies and people that pay taxes, not adding new ones. Perhaps when people learn that simple economic lesson, I'll think about voting yes for millages and new taxes. Until then - teachers driving to school in that VW made in Germany - don't cry to me when you hit that pothole.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:46 a.m.

@TopCat, Stating that trucks "don't pay their way for all the damage and wear and tear they cause to the roads, it is time they should". Do you know this for fact or are you just bloviating? The average semi truck pulling a 48 or 53 foot trailer pays just around $6,000 dolllars a year to move your freight, and yes, I mean move your freight because they are hauling what you, as the end user purchases somewhere at sometime. What do you pay a year? Around $300 bucks for a nice car.Trucks pay 20 times that so don't say semi's don't pay enough. Now the 40 wheeled gravel trains are quite another story. Michigan is one of very few states that even allow them on the road. But please don't generalize and say trucks don't pay enough. Once again, if they raise the tax on semi's, we just pass it along to you as the consumer.


Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

I am fine with raising taxes to improve our roads. I am probably spending that much fixing the alignment in my car every 3 months anyway. My biggest concern, however, is that funds will be misallocated towards seldomly used parts of the state rather than the decrepit city roads. Last year, MDOT ranked Ann Arbor close to the top for having the worst roads in Michigan (both by percent of total and total miles). Is there a way to ensure that taxes will be tied to their point of origination? For instance, if I bought gas on State and Eisenhower, would my tax contribution be tied to Washtenaw County? I sure hope so. Petosky is beautiful, but I don't drive on those roads everyday.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:27 a.m.

Just let the state's road continue to fall apart. That will show those unions who's in charge! Talk about cutting off one's nose to spite one's face!

Top Cat

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:27 a.m.

Bad roads are not free. The damage they can and do cause to vehicles is significant. Either we pay to fix the roads or pay our auto mechanic. There is no question that trucks are not paying for the damage and wear and tear they cause to our roads. It is time they do.

Bob Slattery

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

Michigan has not been higher than 40th out of 50 states in per capita spending on roads in at least the last 30 years. And Michigan ranks 7th in its level of gas tax levy ONLY if you also include the 6% sales tax that Michigan charges on gas (one of only 6 states to do so). But that 6% sales tax goes to the general fund and NOT into roads, so that is misleading. Without that 6%, Michigan's 19 cent gas tax is about middle of the pack - and low among northern tier states. The bi-partisan Transportation Funding Task Force (TF2), made up of representatives of every major sector of Michigan's economy (manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, housing, etc) and both sides of the aisle, with lots of citizen input and lots of professional expertise, concluded in 2008 that to get Michigan's road system up to "good" (not "best") will require a DOUBLING of its investment. The report recommended some reforms and efficiencies but also concluded that Michigan's road agencies were already operating very efficiently. To AlphaAlpha and other who have not done so, I say read the TF2 Report. Here is a link:,1607,7-151-9623_31969_49303---,00.html To misti3k I say tolls can only pay for the roads they are tolling. So I-94 would have a funding stream, what about the other 120,000 miles of road in Michigan? To other, "no tax" advocates I say good roads do cost money - but bad roads cost more. Either pay to have decent roads or pay through the nose for vehicle repairs.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Mon, May 10, 2010 : 7:15 a.m.

And let's not forget that the taxes on just - one - gallon - of - gas, are already nearly $.60 (sixty) cents in Michigan. Fill up with 20 gallons and you pay **$12.00 in taxes**. In essence - the tax for one car to drive 20 miles (mpg) in this state is $.60 - Break that down - for every single car, that drives one single mile in the State of Michigan, the cost of the road is $.03 cents. Given all the cars and all the driving - that is insanely high. BTW, German roads (most of Europe for that matter) are better because they cost an arm and a leg; and per person in Germany - they don't have nearly as much territory to cover as the US. I have also heard that '30 year maintenance' is included in all bids for new roads = That means the road builder will save big bucks in future maintenance if he does a good job upfront.. In the US, annual road maintenance is a "Jobs program" given out by the Dems to their voter base - the Unions.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 9:51 p.m.

@ChuckL, You said, "and an even bigger diesel tax on trucks". I am in the trucking business and we charge our customers right now around an additional 19% on their total freight bill. Two summers ago the fuel surcharge was 38% when diesel hit almost $5.00 per gallon. You wanna tax me more, I just pass it on to you my friend. I haul anything and everything you buy for your daily living so go ahead and make yourself pay more. I am not going to take the hit, you are!


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 9:12 p.m.

AlphaAlpha, I think the reason for 7th in fuel taxes and 43rd in spending on roads is that the Legislature used gas taxes to fund the general budget. If all of the incremental increase in fuel taxes is used to fix the roads, it should be worth spending the money.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

It's interesting that HHW views making an investment in our economic infrastructure as "taking the easy way out". Is it more efficient for millions of people in Michigan to spend large sums of money repairing the suspension systems in their vehicles every year or to spend a small percentage of that repair money fixing the roads? Here is another fact of life: you can't grow an economy without debt. You get into trouble when the rate of debt growth exceeds the growth rate of wealth, which is what just happened with the latest implosion; but if the debt is expanded to make a real investment, it is worth it.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 8:15 p.m.

Messrs. Grimes and Dearing - Thank you very much for the additional information. Do we pay enough gasoline tax? Wiki links to which shows Michigan has the seventh highest gasoline tax in the USA. Per Mr. Grimes' data, Michigan is 43rd in spending on roads. Review: 7th in collections, 43rd in spending. Hmmm. Odd? Mr. Farber contends "The deferral of maintenance is evidence that we actually can't afford to maintain the roads we have." Others would contend "The deferral of maintenance is evidence that we actually can't afford...the maintenance managers we have." Again, the revenue is being collected, but not getting to the roads. Why not? Any ideas Mr. Dearing? Ms. Byrnes? We deserve better. We deserve more accountability; more transparency, more efficiency. Ms. Byrnes, can you imagine the support you would earn, if you could provide motorists the maintenance we already pay for but don't get?


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 8:13 p.m.

Ah yes, let's take the easy way out and tax the people. We have the highest unemployment and one of the worst economy's in the country. This lack of ingenuity is a big reason why. Start cutting the pork out of the state budget...then let's see if more taxes on the residents are required.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 7:52 p.m.

I say let's put more people in Michigan back to work fixing our roads. Pass a gas tax and an even bigger diesel fuel tax on trucks. With low interest rates and high unemployment, now is the time to float bonds to work on needed public infrastructure projects. However, let's also get more intelligent about when, where and how we constrict traffic in construction zones!


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 7:18 p.m.

One of the reasons Germany has such good roads is that the builders must put up performance bonds for a set period, say 20-25 years. Then if the road fails the company repairs it at its expense. A much better setup than lowest bid/cost plus that encourages builders to cheat when the inspector isn't around. Good roads can be built, look at Washtenaw from US 23 through Ypsi. That road still has original sections built in the fifties that are still performing after all these high volume years.

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 6:05 p.m.

Thanks, kafkaland. Facts are good things. Unions are far from perfect, to be certain, but the union bashing that goes on in the discussions is quite amazing and quite beyond any logical or factual basis. I'm waiting to find out that unions have caused the state's infestation of the Emerald Ash borer.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 3:30 p.m.

Two words: Michigan Turnpike! Throw some toll booths on I-94 and there's your road money. That's the main reason why so many surrounding states don't have the same problem we do.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

@Joe Hood: In Germany you don't ahve to court to fire someone. But as a worker, you have plenty of rights to go to court and sue for wrongful termination, as there is no such thing as an "at will" employer in Germany. Basically, to fire someone you need to have cause, and it can be anything from that the job doesn't exist any more, or that the company needs to cut costs and has made the decision whom to lay of in a fair and reasonable way, or that the employee isn't performing despite being put on notice and given opportunities to improve, or outright misconduct. Another rule that seems to be important in the German system is that negotiated framework contracts between unions and employer associations can be declared "generally binding" for an entire sector by the government - so if, let's say unions and employer associations in the construction business agree upon certain minimum wages (there is no such thing in Germany per se!) or safety standards, all employers and emploees in construction will be held to those standards once that happens - you cannot opt out. This reduces the incentive for union-busting on part of the management, and together with rules for employee representation on the supervisory boards of large corporation, seems to make for a much more civil climate whne it comes to tough decisions, like how many and who to lay off. In turn, there seems to be overall a better work ethic in Germany, where the workers are seen much more as stakeholders and valuable assets instead of replacable commodities. And that, in turn, may just mean that you get roads or cars, that are built to last. Or government employees who don't feel like they're in jeopardy of losing their pension because an elected populist politician thinks he or she can score points with that. There you go... I never thought I'd defend unions, but in this case it seems appropriate.

Joe Hood

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 2:27 p.m.

@Tigger: in Germany, you need to go to court to fire someone. There is a big dance you do to claim you want your job back. It's why BMW builds cars in South Carlina. I agree, the gas tax will be subverted to some other purpose (surely, a noble one). There is no way to get an iron clad agreement to only spend on roads. Sure would be nice if we had a transparent government. People run on that platform but never keep that promise.

Don Grimes

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 12:48 p.m.

AlphaAlpha asked for a few facts. Here are the best I could come up with. Looking at census data for fiscal year 2008, Michigan state government spending on highways is 4.86% of total state government spending compared to a national average of 6.17%, among the 50 states we ranked 43rd. More rural states tend to spend more of the budgets on roads (the states with the five highest shares are Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana), more urban states with mass transit systems spend less (the three lowest states are Rhode Island, New York, and Connecticut). The average wage in private sector road building (almost all road work is contracted to private firms) in Michigan in 2008 was $69,329 about 25% greater than the national average of $55,905. We had the 10th highest average wage. The union deferential appears to be very large. Out of the 15 lowest wage states, 14 are right to work states (New Mexico is the exception). And, out of the 21 highest wage states, 20 are non-right to work states (Nevada is the exception).

Edward R. Murrow's ghost

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 12:21 p.m.

The best roads on which I have ever driven are in Germany--not just on the autobahns but on all of the main trunk roads and side roads, as well. Germany is much more unionized than is the United States (and, BTW, has a single-payer healthcare system). So much for unions being the problem with our state's roads. Try again.

Phillip Farber

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 12:13 p.m.

Regional, state and national transportation planning will be forced to create alternatives to roads for moving goods and people over the next decade and beyond. We have a mature road system; perhaps even one that is overbuilt due to our lack of rail as an alternative mode. I agree that weight limits are too high and contribute to the breakdown of our highways which increases the maintenance burden. The heaviest truck traffic should be on rails designed to handle those loads. The deferral of maintenance is evidence that we actually can't afford to maintain the roads we have. The recession has made the problem worse, but we'll continue to see the conversion to gravel surfaces and perhaps the removal of roads whether we have a "recovery" or not. Cost doubling and redoubling for cement, diesel, steel and asphalt due to increasing oil prices ($85/barrel in the middle of a recession?) will make maintenance of even the existing system foolishly expensive. This is not to forget that increasing numbers of people are being priced out of owning and driving entirely and those that still do drive have shifted massively to greater fuel efficiency and are rearranging their lives so they don't have to drive as much. These facts add up to a death spiral for a transportation system based solely on highways. A lot more that 4 cents per gallon in fuel taxes will be required to maintain funding. We already know that hidden subsidies are required in addition to fuel taxes to keep the roads maintained. I fear that legislatures will be forced to escalate these subsidies because of public resistance to gas tax increases. This money is coming out of our pockets whether we notice it or not. And we wonder why our standard of living is declining. We should disinvest in roads and reorganize more locally to decrease our dependence on driving and long-haul trucking. We should redirect a portion of subsidies combined with increased gas taxes toward bus rapid-transit and rail systems. Before, that is, we're pauperized by trying to prop up the creaking monstrosity we currently have.

pam byrnes

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

As Chaif of the State House Committee on Transportation and a former county road commissioner, I have often been asked about truck weights and performance standards. I refer the readers to this link to the MDOT website for a white paper on truck weights. For information regarding MDOT standards, please visit By the way, for all the Moms, enjoy your day. It's a beautiful one!


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 10:20 a.m.

A bit more data...


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 10:05 a.m.

Yes: What studies? Where is accountability? Where are road maintenance efficiency metrics? How does our spending compare to that of other jurisdictions? Are our road workers as overpaid as other government employees? How is their productivity measured and monitored? Why are roads not designed to last decades instead of years? Why (and by whom) was road funding diverted to other purposes? Accountability first, then assess funding... Mr. Dearing, a bit data would be quite helpful. Can you help?


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 10:04 a.m.

I agree 100% with SonnyDog09 in that there is still way too much waste in government. Rather than "finding new money" as noted in the above article which is just code for "raising taxes", government needs to disband public unions, dump the pensions and gold plated healthcare benefits. Gov't workers benefits,pay and healthcare should be no better than the 50th percentile of their respective jobs in the private sector. If at that time they wanted better healthcare benefits then it would cost them more out of their pockets. Bottom line is this. I cannot afford to have my taxes raised or pay more for gasoline. The state needs to show the taxpayers that they too are serious about cutting costs. Only then will we be willing to go along with any new taxes.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 9:42 a.m.

"The issue has been studied to death, and these studies point to the same problem: Michigan just isnt spending enough on its roads and bridges. " What Studies are you talking about? Michigan's cost per mile of maintenance leads the country. That makes Michigan perhaps the most Inefficient State in the nation for use of funds regarding roads. How about: Eliminating prevailing wage laws; Making changes in state trunk line maintenance, including putting out to bid all state work in each county; Getting the state out of the business of doing its own maintenance on state roads in those 21 counties where this is still occurring; Consistently requiring design and build warranties; Increasing performance auditing of state and local road agencies; Now that is Change.

scooter dog

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

I think they used this same crutch a few years ago if i am not mistaken.They jacked up the gas tax BUT they diverted the revenue from it to the general fund and the roads went to hell. Part of the problems with the roads going down the tubes is the weights that the trucks are allowed to carry in michigan.Michigan has one of the highest weights per axel for trucks than any other state.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 8:17 a.m.

Will contracts will be favored to minority businesses raising costs? Will contracts be awarded to non union companies if they are cost competetive OR will the same union protectionist practices be used? Will the good ol boy network continue with the quick fix instead of using construction practices and materials that will last 20 years or longer? I need those Q's satisfied before supporting a failed bureaucracy.


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 7:59 a.m.

Amazing! The same people who think raising taxes will keep people from smoking, etc. don't think that raising gas tax will stop people from driving in Michigan. Translation: More businesses moving, more people moving and eventually lower revenue due to less gas being sold. You will never have efficient government as long as youkeep feeding the beast. Ann Arbor is in one of the best finacial conditions of any city in Michigan. With some of the worst roads. Throughing money to the establishment won't make them spend it wisely. Cutting the money may. Repeal the current gas tax and special business tax and bring jobs back!


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 7:49 a.m.

I'm wondering if the MDOT and the Legislature will do something about the weight restrictions on trucks. I think Michigan has some of the lowest restrictions in the nation, meaning trucks in Michigan can carry more weight. When the state government addresses these basic issues, and does everything that is possible to cut waste, then I would support a tax increase, and maybe, just maybe, even support toll roads in Michigan. No doubt about it, our roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 7:44 a.m.

"...we support this proposal, as long as it is coupled with guarantees that the funds will not be misdirected and that best practices will be used in the repair and construction of roads." In other words you expect the Government to suddenly act responsibly? Is there some reason for you to think this hypothetical act could actually happen? Because I don't.

Hot Sam

Sun, May 9, 2010 : 6:29 a.m.

"""as long as it is coupled with guarantees that the funds will not be misdirected and that best practices will be used in the repair and construction of roads. """ And therein lies the problem....


Sun, May 9, 2010 : 6:25 a.m.

I will oppose increasing taxes to fund road construction until the road building system demonstrates that they have squeezed wasted dollars from the system. As long as I continue to see five guys standing around watching one guy work every time that I drive through a "work area", I will not believe that they have squeezed waste from the system.