Betsy Coffia, Democrat for State House

Michigan's 104th House District, Grand Traverse County

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    Roads - wear, tear and who foots the bill

    Originally published in the Northern Express on September 1, 2014
    Roads - wear, tear and who foots the bill
    by Betsy Coffia

    Sad to say, but summer is waning and cold weather is closer than any of us really want to admit. Meanwhile Michigan’s potholes worsen, household budgets absorb more vehicle repairs and citizens get more frustrated about our roads and bridges.

    Unfortunately, Lansing’s ruling majority remains stalled on the issue. This spring, the legislature contemplated raising the gas tax, but went into summer recess with no action to bring in the estimated $1 billion in needed annual revenue to pay for fixing and properly maintaining our roads.

    There’s been much talk of sharing the pain, spreading the cost of raising that revenue among all motorists. Proposals floated include increasing the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

    Our transportation infrastructure won’t fix itself, and the worse we let it become, the more expensive the eventual repairs. The rub is, of course, who pays.

    This is about far more than bent rims, potholes and popped tires. Looking at this issue from 30,000 feet, it is clear that the state of our roads and bridges not only impacts family budgets and public safety, but also greatly affects Michigan’s overall economic health. Strong infrastructure is a key ingredient to attracting economic investment. We make a poor impression on potential job creators when a simple drive down the road threatens to rattle the teeth from their heads and the rims from their cars. These would-be investors can reasonably ask: “Why choose Michigan, when other states do a much better job maintaining the infrastructure essential to moving goods and services?”

    Something has to be done.

    But what? After a frustrating series of road funding ideas that have led nowhere, Senate Majority leader Randy Richardville recently said he’ll take “anything from anyone.”

    Here is a thought. As we consider raising the cost to individual motorists, let’s also look to the vehicles causing the greatest wear and tear on our roads, per trip.

    Commercial trucking has a significant toll on our infrastructure, but has received relatively little attention in the talks of how to fix it. Consider this. A fully loaded five-axle rig weighing 80,000 pounds causes more damage to a highway than 5,000 cars. Governing magazine revealed this startling statistic in a 2007 article, adding: “Some road planners say that the toll is even higher, that it would take close to 10,000 cars to equal the damage caused by one heavy truck. When the trucks are overloaded, as quite a few of them are, the damage is exponentially worse. Increasing a truck's weight to 90,000 pounds results in a 42 percent increase in road wear. Pavement designed to last 20 years wears out in seven.”

    According to the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan, which perpetually has some of the worst roads in the country, has the highest gross weight limit for trucks in the nation, at 164,000 pounds — more than double the national limit. And in 2012, MDOT issued 6,992 single-trip permits for trucks weighing more than that. The heaviest load allowed in Michigan in 2011-12 was 1.5 million pounds.”

    Michigan currently gives a pretty sweet deal to its biggest, heaviest users: a mere $50 flat fee to rumble enormous loads over our roadways. In contrast, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin charge based on load weight, distance traveled, or a combination of both. Indiana has a $100 bridge fee, as well. (This might not be the most delicate moment to note that more than 25% of Michigan bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. But there you have it.)

    The Free Press researched fees charged by these neighboring states. Indiana is on the low end of the fee structure, but still charges twice what we do here.

    Ohio and Wisconsin consistently charge nearly 8 times what Michigan requires for the same weights/distances. For example, a truck weighing in at 1.4 million pounds would pay a $1,435 fee to travel a mere 10 miles in Wisconsin. The same truck currently can pay $50 to travel any distance at all on Michigan roadways.

    With all the talk of ‘spreading the pain’, I say this: I am willing to pay more taxes for better roads and I submit it is also reasonable to ask trucking companies to help pay for the wear and tear they cause to publicly funded roadways.

    Again, I am not the first to suggest this. Michigan’s Auditor General recommended an increase in 2011. Current 104th District State Representative and House Transportation Committee Chair Wayne Schmidt recently said he is open to increasing fees for overweight trucks. Such a measure was actually proposed earlier this year by fellow Republican State Representative Michael McReady of Bloomfield Hills. Though supported by Schmidt and House Majority Leader Jase Bolger, it went nowhere. After the Free Press stories came out, Governor Rick Snyder said we should look at the fees. Thus far, he has stopped short of actually supporting an increase.

    I submit this should be an absolute, bipartisan no brainer. Bring up the fees to compare with overweight truck fees in our neighboring states.

    And for goodness sake, make sure that, A) additional revenue raised goes exactly where it should… ROADS, and B) ensure that additional road funding is equitably distributed across the state, including here in Northern Michigan.

    The overweight truck issue is only part of the bigger picture, of course. Upping fees doesn’t get us $1 billion. But it does chip away at it and reasonably asks those contributing significant wear and tear to our roads to help chip in to fix them.



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