I live in New Jersey, but I recently took a brief trip to Bay City, Michigan. Even though I wasn’t in the state for very long, I was surprised to find that the state of their roads was quite horrible. Since I was heading back home to NJ pretty soon, I didn’t think much about it at the time. But since I know someone who lives in Michigan, and who has to deal with those roads on a regular basis, I ended up feeling the urge to do something about it.
Seeing as how I don’t live in Michigan and have no political connections, there didn’t seem to be much I could do. So I decided simply to write a complaint on the Michigan Department of Transportation website.
Here is what I wrote:
To whom it may concern,
I am a New Jersey resident, and I recently visited your state for the first time. I was highly disappointed in the state of your roads throughout the entire trip. The road conditions were atrocious, and I encountered a great many stretches of cracked, uneven, rough pavement. The roads felt extremely unsafe, especially during rainy conditions. I was very concerned both about the potential dangers of the driving conditions and about the possible damage that could be caused to my car’s tires and shocks while driving under such conditions.
Most of this experience was in the Bay City area. I also drove on Routes 23, 75, and 80.
I strongly recommend you increase efforts to improve the road conditions and work to ensure the safety of both residents of and visitors to your state.
I didn’t expect much of a reply. However, a few days later, I received a detailed and very informative email from someone at the MDOT:
Dear Mr. Cantrell:
Thank you for your letter to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). I am sorry you had this experience. There are many who share your concern, including Michigan residents, who often ask why we don’t “just fix the roads.” The answer is this. Current investment in Michigan’s infrastructure is achieved through a $.19/gal state gas tax and $.15/gal state diesel tax. We’ve had no new investment in our roads since 1997. The current shortfall in funding to keep Michigan roads in good/fair condition is estimated at $1.5 billion per year.
We were able to maintain the goal of keeping 90 percent of our trunkline pavement in good or fair condition from 2007 to 2011. Without additional funding, the number of state trunklines in good/fair condition will fall from 83% in 2013 to a potentially debilitating 49% in five years and to 39% in 10 years.
It’s important to note that the state sales tax applied to gas purchases does not go to roads. In addition, registration fees, which are another source of revenue, are based on vehicle value and fees collected have been declining due to motorists purchasing fewer new vehicles. Instead many motorists are choosing to keep their older vehicles, which bring in lower registration fees.
We understand taxpayers expect and deserve value for their money when it comes to roads and tourists do not relish running into potholes. For this reason, MDOT is working hard to meet today’s economic challenges through preventative maintenance, efficiencies and innovations. But unless the revenue shortfall is addressed, the significant progress made over the past several years in improving pavement service life will be lost.
Nevertheless, we are certain that fixing the roads today will save money in the long run. It is no longer enough just to maintain existing road conditions. We need to repair and upgrade our roads to keep them in good condition and to aid the economy. The problem only gets worse and more expensive the longer we wait. That means higher costs for our citizens, communities, and job providers. In addition, as you’ve indicated, there a price to pay for wear and tear on vehicles, as well.
Simply maintaining the current condition of our roads – which most motorists agree is not good – demands significant investment. It’s going to be up to states to find our own solutions and it is clear to us that we can’t avoid this problem and that doing nothing is not an option. This means tough decisions, but decisive action will save money, improve safety and support job providers. The issue is currently with Michigan legislators and the governor’s reinvestment proposals can be found on the state’s Web site.
I can assure you, Mr. Cantrell, that MDOT is committed to finding ways to do things better, faster, cheaper, safer and smarter to invest in our roads and bridges. Hopefully, on your next trip to Michigan you will find that the tough decisions have been made, our rough roads problem has been solved, and Michigan highways are in good condition — a goal that will remain a top priority for MDOT.
Thanks again for your letter. I’ve attached some charts on the issue that you may find useful.
[NAME] (I cut out the person’s name for the sake of privacy.)
Michigan Department of Transportation
I was very appreciative that this person contacted me, and for the sake of spreading the word about this issue, I decided to post the information here. I don’t know if anyone who reads my blog lives in Michigan, but I’m a great believer in spreading important information around, especially when it might help improve people’s lives, even in a small way.
If you live in the Michigan area, I recommend reading some information on the websites listed in the email. Also, here are the infographics that MDOT sent (I found them interesting, and thought others might as well):