Another Call For More Funding

By Aram Kalousdian, Editor | September 28, 2010

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has come close to attaining its goal of having 95 percent of state roads in good condition by this year, but it will not be able to sustain that, due to anticipated funding decreases in the future. John C. Friend, director of the Bureau of Delivery for MDOT, discussed the status of the state's road system at the Michigan Aggregates Association's 2007 Summer Meeting in Bay Harbor in July.

"Our financial picture is not that good. A lot of the prior federal transportation reauthorization bill that provided federal dollars to us was front loaded, which means that in the cycle of federal funding, more of the money became available to the states up front," John C. Friend, director of the Bureau of Delivery for MDOT, said.

"Second of all, the last gas tax increase we had was in 1997. As you know, it's based on cents per gallon. So, if the price of gas goes up, it's kind of a double whammy. We're not getting a lot more revenue and the public perceives that the price of gas is too high for them to be supportive of a price increase.

"So, on the road portion of our system preservation area, I will tell you that our system condition is not too bad. But, it deteriorates quickly, and if we don't find a way to maintain the investment that we have, our program will dramatically decline in the near future. It's going to take more federal money and state money and it's going to take some new ways of thinking.

"We're in slightly better shape on the bridge side of the equation. We set a goal of having 95 percent of the state bridges in good condition by 2008. That investment strategy has paid off. Our bridges tend to be a longer investment, so when we repair a bridge, we tend to get a little longer life out of it. So, we're not nearly as concerned about the bridge population in the state of Michigan in terms of being able to maintain good conditions, but at the same time, some of the funding issues that we talk about on the road side are on the bridge side as well." Friend said that preservation of the existing system is still a top priority.

"I will say that most of us feel the No. 1 issue is preserving our existing assets. Before we talk about new interchanges or widening roadways, we need to focus on the ability to maintain what we have," Friend said.

Friend acknowledged that even though the focus has been on system preservation, the need for capacity improvements is there.

"Capacity improvements are needed in the state of Michigan; there's not doubt about that. The scale of investment is dramatic in order to be able to do some of these things across the state. So, we need more money to preserve our transportation system, while at the same time there is a need to expand our system," Friend said.

MDOT's recently released 25-year plan (2006–2030) shows that funding needs for road improvements, aviation, freight, and multi-modal preservation and expansion will total approximately $81.2 billion in 2005 dollars. The total revenue that is estimated to be available is approximately $37 billion.

Friend explained that the department is pursuing a grant through the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Highways For Life program. This program allows the department to select a project with an alternative contract award that is not based on the lowest bid.

"We have a section of M-115 where we're going to do exactly that. We're going to lay out key performance criteria that we want to achieve on that project The contractor's proposal will not be scored on lowest bid, but on their ability to achieve those performance criteria," Friend said.