The U.S. Congress's recent decision to eliminate all existing "earmark" grants will cost the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) nearly $6 million worth of previously approved federal grants for six road projects in the county.
The grants were for projects to widen sections of Walton Boulevard, Crooks Road and Southfield Road; to reconstruct the Orchard Lake Road/Maple Road intersection; and to upgrade traffic signals along Lahser and Maple roads.
"Apparently some members of Congress believed that so-called 'pork-barrel' spending had gotten out of hand in Washington, D.C.," explained RCOC Managing Director Brent Bair. "So, instead of correcting the problem where the abuses had occurred, they threw out the entire 'earmarking' program, including many worthwhile, 'non-pork' road projects, such as our six."
Earmarks are grants that individual U.S. representatives or senators obtain for projects within their districts. All earmarks must be approved by the entire Congress. This is possibly the first time that Congress has retroactively eliminated previously approved earmarks.
"It would be very difficult to call these six critical road projects in Oakland County 'pork,'" Bair said. "They are all badly needed. It's not as though these critical road projects are luxury items. It's a real shame that the abuse of the system by a few legislators led to the elimination of the entire program."
Five of the six grants that Oakland County lost were originally obtained by Congressman Joe Knollenberg. The sixth was obtained by Congressman Sander Levin.
"In all of these cases," Bair pointed out, "the legislators came to us and other local officials, and said, 'what are your most critical, unfunded projects?' We provided project lists and they pursued earmarks."
Bair added that had it not been for the ability of Congressmen Knollenberg and Levin and others in recent years to obtain earmark grants, Oakland County, like Michigan as a whole, would have been a "donor" for federal road funds. "If it weren't for these grants," he said, "we would have received less money back in road funding from Washington, D.C., than we sent there."
For the time being, it is not clear what the future holds for those projects for which the current earmark grants were cut. "Right now, we simply don't have almost $6 million in other funding to put into these projects," Bair said. "The projects remain high priorities for us, but we'll have to figure out another way to fund them. In the current environment, I don't expect that to be easy."
The specific grants that were cut were:
- $400,000 for the widening of the Walton Boulevard bridge over Interstate 75 in Auburn Hills (scheduled for 2007)
- $1.6 million for the widening of Crooks Road, from 14 Mile to Elmwood in Clawson and Royal Oak (scheduled for 2009)
- $2 million for the reconstruction of the Orchard Lake Road/Maple Road intersection in West Bloomfield Township as a roundabout (scheduled for 2008 or 2009)
- $300,000 to upgrade traffic signals to the FAST-TRAC adaptive signal system on Lahser Road, from 13 Mile Road to Long Lake Road in Beverly Hills, Bloomfield Township, and Bloomfield Hills (scheduled for 2008)
- $1 million to upgrade traffic signals to the FAST-TRAC adaptive signal system on Maple Road, from Orchard Lake Road to Cranbrook Road in Bloomfield and West Bloomfield townships (scheduled for 2008)
- $450,000 toward the eventual widening of Southfield Road between 10 Mile Road and 11 Mile Road in Southfield (no construction date has been identified)