MDOT: Potholes Worse Before Getting Better

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The Michigan Department of Transportation's director says the state will need at least an extra $30 million to cover costs from what he's calling, the worst winter in his memory.

"We have roadways that have frost heave in them that I've never seen frost heave in," said director Kirk Steudle. "The roads are going to be worse three weeks from now."

MDOT budgeted $88 million for winter, Steudle said, but the winter should cost between $105-115 million. A supplement is necessary, Steudle told the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee Tuesday, adding if nothing is done this year, the issue will recur.

"If we don't do anything we'll be back here a year from now, it will look just like this except the number will be a little bigger," he said. "We've been pulling money out of maintenance for federal aid [for years] and we can no longer do that. We've got to put that $40 million back into all the issues we see popping up: aging infrastructure."

That $40 million is the increase in the amount Gov. Rick Snyder appropriated for maintenance for the 2014-2015 budget year, which begins in October. Steudle called it "exactly what we need."

The governor has pledged more than $250 million toward transportation, but less than half of that can go toward fixing potholes. About $127 million will go toward a federal match program, but that money can only go toward "projects" not "maintenance." Road construction, bridge construction and repaving are among the things federal money may go toward.

A frigid, snowy winter has slammed roads all over the state. Salt usage is double what it usually is. Sand usage, quadruple. Plus hours and hours of overtime for plow drivers is pushing cities, counties and the state close to their limits.

And there's still weeks of winter to come.

"When the potholes pop, we're going to fill them," Steudle said. "We're going to be filling them with the summer budget -- whether it's salt overage or fuel overage or filling potholes. What we really need is backfill on the back end. We're not waiting for appropriations so we can go buy more salt. That's a safety issue; we are just going to do that."

The more road commissions spend on the winter, the tighter times may be when spring and summer rolls around -- when it's time to fill so many of the potholes created this winter.

Bill Conklin of the Ingham County Road Commission says if January's weather carries over to February, he'll be looking at a reduction in summer repair work.

Lansing Business, Permits and Technology Manager Chris Mumbe says the city may have to do budget transfers to fight what he calls "the toughest winter so far."

Lansing roads are already underfunded he said, so the work is like putting band-aids on. Even $3 million for road funding from a millage "doesn't go very far," he said.

Without a supplemental appropriation at the state level, Kirk Steudle says trash collection and mowing operations could suffer.

Steudle does not have a target date for the supplemental appropriation, but hopes to make headway on it starting in the spring.

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