- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - As the percentage of Michigan roads in poor condition continues to rise, the state and its local governments face another year of stagnant funding for repairs.

Michigan lawmakers are working to come up with a new plan for long-term funding of state roads after the failure last week of the Proposal 1 referendum.

Meanwhile, House and Senate versions of the transportation budgets for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 look much like budgets of the past 15 years. Ultimately, it means roads across the state likely will continue deteriorating because of the stagnant funding and increased costs of material and labor.

Since the 2000-01 fiscal year, the amount allocated to transportation in the state has ranged from $3 billion to $3.8 billion, excluding federal stimulus funds that brought the total up to $4.5 billion in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“If that was a line chart and we were in a hospital, we would basically be comatose or dead,” said Ed Noyola, deputy director and legislative liaison for the County Road Association of Michigan.

The coming year isn’t shaping up to be much different. The House and Senate transportation budgets for the next fiscal year are around $3.7 billion, some $69 million to $89 million lower than 2014. That’s around a 2 percent decrease from the current fiscal year.

At a time when the number of Michigan roads in poor condition has risen to nearly 38 percent, according to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council, state and local road officials say it will be hard to make all of the needed repairs.

“We can’t possibly keep up with the preventative maintenance we need to do,” said Jeff Cranson, Department of Transportation spokesman. “If we don’t invest, each spring is going to be worse.”

The effect of the stagnant funding is compounded by increasing costs for materials and labor.

“The obvious impact is the fact that roads have continued to deteriorate and deteriorate at a very fast pace because there hasn’t been as much money in the system and the dollar doesn’t go as far as it did a decade ago,” said John LaMacchia, a legislative associate with the Michigan Municipal League.

There is no question that purchasing power has gone down as inflation has continued to rise over the past 10 years and the amount of money available has remained about the same, he said.

Some communities have turned to local millages to help raise money for roads, while others are looking elsewhere in their budgets.

“Many are using general fund dollars to make up some of the difference that would be needed to do the minimum type of repairs on our road network,” LaMacchia said. “Should we have a transportation system that is fully funded … that money could be offered up to other services our communities provide.”

Noyola said local road commissions have done what they can to keep costs down and make each dollar stretch, including reducing staff and making changes to insurance, health care and retirement.

“Revenue is flat. Material and equipment costs have gone up. We’ve done pretty much everything we can think of,” he said.

“We’re going to have to tighten our belts and work with the revenue we have available to us,” he added. “We will continue to do preventive work to continue pavement life, but as far as major projects or improvements they won’t be happening.”

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Online:

See the state’s transportation funding trends since 2000: https://1.usa.gov/1H3BpSD

See the House transportation budget: https://1.usa.gov/1PrkJ6G

See the Senate transportation budget: https://1.usa.gov/1F0JgOx

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