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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

$44B Michigan roads shortfall projected by 2030

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Maintaining Michigan's transportation network and expanding it where necessary to accommodate traffic growth between now and 2030 will cost about $81 billion, or $44 billion more than the revenue currently forecast to be available, a state long-range plan released yesterday states.

"Projected funding is not sufficient to sustain Michigan's transportation system, even at current levels of service," the report warns, adding that just to keep pace with expected inflation, an additional $6.33 billion needs to be raised during the Michigan Department of Transportation plan's time period.

But without additional funds, progress MDOT has made in recent years to replace failing bridges and repave battered roadways will regress, according to the report.

In a statement accompanying the report, Kirk Steudle, MDOT's director, said that during public meetings conducted as part of the plan's formulation, state officials heard of a public desire for "more travel choices, and better connectivity between modes" while the state faces rising costs for fuel and construction materials.

"We learned that there is a significant gap between the public's expectations for transportation in Michigan and our ability to meet those expectations. That is a challenge for this decade and beyond," Mr. Steudle said.

Bill Shreck, an agency spokesman, said the state's current-year budget crisis is of greater concern than a long-range plan for a specific program area, but the report was issued to "help us focus on our needs" before Michigan's transportation system reaches a crisis point.

"There are going to be some tough choices to be made if we don't find a solution to our funding needs in the future," he said.

Mike Nystrom, vice president for government and public affairs with the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said the long-range plan portends a "dire" future for the state unless new sources of transportation project funding are identified.

"We've known that this was coming for a long time," Mr. Nystrom said. "This report forecasts how bad it could actually get. Ultimately, it would impact our economy even further, with the loss of jobs and the loss of economic opportunities from potential employers, as they see our system begin to crumble even further than it already has."

Mr. Nystrom's group is part of a coalition of business interests that's promoting a nine-cent increase in Michigan's 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, registration fee increases, and other taxes that would increase the state's transportation budget by $1 billion annually.

The MDOT report offered the possibility of placing tolls on new major highway projects as a revenue source.

But state Rep. Kathy Angerer (D., Dundee) said, "I don't know that that proposal has any [legislative] legs at this point."

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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