Group looks at state of U.P. roads

HARRIS — Area county commissioners learned about the current status of roads in Michigan and legislative funding proposals — along with a variety of other topics — Thursday. The Upper Peninsula Association of County Commissioners (UPACC) Spring Conference began at the Island Resort and Casino yesterday afternoon.

One of the first presentations given at the conference focused on Michigan’s roads. During the presentation, County Road Association of Michigan Director Denise Donohue kicked things off with a look at what Michigan’s roads are like today.

According to Donohue, 78 percent of state trunklines are currently in good or fair condition. She said the same is true for 45 percent of local federal aid-eligible roads and 36 percent of local roads not eligible for federal aid.

Donohue also spoke about funding for county roads in the U.P. She said the total target investment for these roads is $405,251,000 per year; in 2017, the total revenue for these roads was $88,000,000.

Another topic addressed by Donohue was Michigan Transportation Fund distribution. Counties and the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) were each said to receive 39.1 percent of monies distributed from the fund and cities and villages were said to receive 21.8 percent; however, county roads make up 75 percent of the road system, city and village roads make up 17 percent and MDOT roads make up 8 percent.

According to Donohue, the CRA supports many elements of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s road funding proposal, including the large amount of funding it calls for and Whitmer’s treatment of road funding as a high priority. However, she felt it was important for further discussion on the distribution of road funding to take place.

“I would say the taxpayers of Michigan would say a big solution … needs to be a real solution; not simply for the trunkline system, but for all of the roads,” she said.

Associate Region Engineer Mark Maloney of MDOT reviewed his department’s involvement with Michigan roads.

The only U.P. road listed in the first tier of MDOT’s classification system — which includes interstate roads — is I-75, Maloney said. I-75 is currently in 100 percent good or fair condition.

“However, at the current funding levels, by 2028 that’s going to drop to 56 percent,” he said.

Later, Maloney reviewed some major road projects MDOT is planning to take on in the area through 2024. In 2020, the department plans to construct a roundabout in Munising, complete the reconstruction of the eastbound lanes of U.S. 2 and 41 between Gladstone and Rapid River, relocate a portion of U.S. 2 west of the Cut River Bridge and completely replace bridges over the Firesteel River in Ontonagon County near M-38.

Maloney was followed by Citizens Research Council of Michigan President Eric Lupher. Lupher discussed issues with Michigan’s gas tax.

According to Lupher, one of these issues is the fact the tax is set at a number of cents per gallon instead of a percentage of gas prices, meaning it has to be periodically adjusted for inflation. He also felt the fact the tax is based on the number of gallons of fuel that are consumed has created some problems.

“Because we have increases in fuel efficiency, it’s not a very productive tax,” he said.

Along with this, Lupher spoke about potential alternate funding methods for lower-priority Michigan roads. He said this could include the introduction of local sales and gas taxes and vehicle registration fees as options for local governments in the state.

Former state senator and director of Gov. Whitmer’s northern Michigan office Mike Prusi spoke about the politics behind Whitmer’s proposed gas tax increase of 45 cents per gallon. He noted when he was involved with negotiating union contracts in a “prior life,” he was taught to ask for more than he expected to get when the negotiation process was done.

“I’m not saying that the governor wouldn’t like 45 cents, but I don’t know that she ever truly expected that it would get that way through the legislature,” he said.

Prusi also provided a brief breakdown of Whitmer’s proposal. He said, while much of the new funding included in the plan would go towards major roads, 2 percent of the new funds would be put towards “rural economic corridors” in counties home to less than 400,000 people.

Many other presentations were included on the schedule for the conference Thursday. These focused on 911 services in the U.P., Community Mental Health, efforts to prepare for the 2020 census, proposed deer regulations in the U.P. related to chronic wasting disease and judicial perspectives on “raise the age” legislation.

The conference will continue today with a Michigan Association of Counties update and legislative forum, as well as a UPACC business meeting.

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