Lobbyists, Lawmakers Battle Over Bridge Funding

By: John Tramontana Email
By: John Tramontana Email

It's no secret Michigan roads and bridges have seen better days. In fact, according to the lobbying group the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Assocation, or MITA, Michigan's roads are in worse shape than Minnesota's, the site of last week's deadly bridge collapse.

"This is not a scare tactic," said construction lobbyist Mike Nystrom. "This is a wake-up call.

Nystrom, along with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and other road groups, are challenging the legislature to find more money for improvements.

"This is an opportunity ti improve safety, to save lives," he said.

But that doesn't come cheaply. Nystrom is proposing an extra $1 billion annually for bridge and road repair. He says it can be done by raising the gas tax three cents a year for the next three years in addition to doubling registration fees....something Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop says will not happen.

"Taxes going up would not help any," Sen. Bishop said. "We're concerned that there's just too much pressure on the average citizen."

But he adds the infrastructure must be improved and will be strongly considered for increase funding in this year's budget.

"Obviously the infrastructure in this state us a very high priority. We've got to find a way to ensure our roads are safe."

Bishop also says 90% of the state's roads are not owned by the state and local governments need to find their own funding.

But it's a state problem as well. The Michigan Department of Transportation doesn't even have enough money to maintain bridges and roads as they are today.

Spokesman Bill Shreck says the department is short more than $300 million each year.

"We need to get more revenue to stay where we are now," Shrek said.

And more revenue to continue improving roads as they've done the past decade.

"Bridges have gone from about 63% good 10 years ago to 87% good today."

But if more money doesn't find its way to the pavement, the percentage could drop faster than it has risen.

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