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Road commission light on projects

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Mechanic Tyler Arnold works on a Delta County Road Commission truck recently. In response to COVID-19-related funding cuts, the road commission is not currently planning to order any new trucks, plows or equipment next year.

ESCANABA — Summer is officially here — a season which is heavily associated with road work in Michigan. However, Delta County Road Commission Managing Director Jody Norman said the road commission has a relatively small number of projects planned for the coming months.

“We don’t have a ton of stuff this year,” he said.

Recently, Norman said the road commission paved 18th Road from Soo Hill to Riverland. County Road 186 is also slated for paving in late August.

“That’s the cut-across from Brampton to Rapid River,” Norman said.

Between these projects and others, the road commission has budgeted about $3.5 million for road work this summer — an amount Norman said is lower than average, and significantly lower than the amount budgeted for the summer of 2019. That year, the road commission did a “tremendous” amount of work, including the reconstruction of eight and a half miles of Highway 13.

“That road alone cost about $3 million,” Norman said.

Norman said the road commission had been saving for two years for that project.

“We had been squirreling away because we knew that Highway 13 was coming,” he said.

Work on Highway 13 was also supported by a $1 million Federal Land Access Program grant.

In March and April, the road commission did not receive monies from the Michigan Transportation Fund as a result of COVID-19.

“We’ve taken about a $300,000 hit in funding so far,” Norman said.

The funding is generated by gas taxes and registration fees, Norman said; it was affected because Michigan residents were driving less and DMVs were closed this spring. If the pandemic continues through the end of the year, the road commission could potentially end up losing more than $1 million in funding.

In 2015, Norman said a $1.2 billion road funding package was approved by Michigan’s Legislature. The plan was scheduled to take full effect in the 2020-21 fiscal year; that year, $600 million of the state’s general fund was set to be reserved for transportation projects.

“Because of the pandemic, the state is going to most likely pull back that $600 million that’s supposed to go into the Michigan Transportation Fund,” he said.

When the road commission received its first round of funding from the package in 2016, Norman said it essentially banked these funds. The money was rolled over to the following year, a practice which has continued ever since.

“We’re always working off of the year prior,” he said.

Since it is now using funds from 2019, the road commission has not yet experienced a direct impact from COVID-19-related funding cuts. It has taken action in the hopes of mitigating any negative effects in the future.

“We’ve already cut back some of the things that we had planned for this year, because we don’t know what’s coming,” Norman said.

He noted about 15 percent of the road commission’s planned expenses for this year have been cut, and that it is not currently planning to order any new trucks, plows or equipment next year. This should help save at least $1 million.

Currently, Norman and Engineer Nancy Roseman are working on the road commission’s schedule for 2021. Projects Norman said are tentatively lined up for next year include a shoulder widening project on County Road 426 from half a mile south of the Rusty Rail to Cornell, repaving in Cornell, and the completion of a paving project on County Road 414 from Riverland to Schaffer, among other work.

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