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Rage over roads fills Bedford Twp. forum

  • lindsey-mylek-douge-bedford

    Lindsay Mylek-Douge holds a sign during a town hall meeting at Bedford Junior High School about road conditions. Hundreds of people attended the session.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • edd-mcnulty-bedford-township

    Edd McNulty shows a wheel rim, one of two he says were replaced at $225 a piece, after hitting potholes. He said people wanted to know why the state isn't doing anything.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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edd-mcnulty-bedford-township

Edd McNulty shows a wheel rim, one of two he says were replaced at $225 a piece, after hitting potholes. He said people wanted to know why the state isn't doing anything.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Hundreds of people packed the Bedford Junior High School cafeteria and spilled out into a hallway Monday night to hear about — and complain to Monroe County officials and state legislators about — the county's crumbling roads and bridges.

"Everybody in this room needs an answer about when our roads are going to get fixed," said Edd McNulty, a resident of Rauch Road, which state Rep. Dale Zorn (R., Ida) listed by name in acknowledging that county and township roads are failing.

Mr. McNulty carried with him a wheel rim that he said was one of two he has replaced recently, at a cost of $225 apiece, after striking potholes. He added that residents are "tired of getting nothing" from road agencies while spending money on vehicle repairs.

But Mr. Zorn and state Rep. Rick Olson (R., Saline), who moderated the two-hours-plus forum, both said there are no immediate solutions for the declining infrastructure either in Monroe County or anywhere else in Michigan, and that new ways of paying for road maintenance and improvements need to be ­developed.

"Unless something's done, we're going to have bigger problems statewide," Mr. Olson said. "With the status quo, conditions will continue to worsen. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that's it."

"There's just a very few options we have," Mr. Zorn said before asking for a show of hands from those willing to pay a new tax if it were dedicated to highway maintenance.

More than half of the 400 or so people did so, though some questioned whether such a dedicated tax eventually would be raided for other purposes.

"I'm ready to pay a little extra money" in road taxes or vehicle fees, "but it better stay in Monroe County and Bedford," Logan Tisdale, a retired state trooper who lives in the township, said.

"We're getting the same old lip service we've been getting from politicians for years and years," said Jack Gregory of Milan Township, who said lawmakers are more concerned about getting re-elected than about "doing what's right for people," such as raising taxes.

Others said, however, that the state Legislature needs to change the way Michigan does business before taxpayers should be asked to cough up any more revenue.

lindsey-mylek-douge-bedford

Lindsay Mylek-Douge holds a sign during a town hall meeting at Bedford Junior High School about road conditions. Hundreds of people attended the session.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

"The roads are just a small, small part of what's wrong in Michigan," said Colleen Jan, president of the Bedford Education Association, who said legislators should start by cutting their own salaries, which she said are second only to California's among state lawmakers.

"Act 51 is a cancer, and 93 Band-Aids isn't going to make it better," Robert J. Duffey, a county road commissioner, said in calling for a wholesale overhaul of the 1951 state law that spells out how state gasoline tax revenue is distributed and has been amended 93 times since then.

Bedford Township Supervisor Walt Wilburn also said the problem rests in the state capital.

"The message has to be taken back to Lansing," he said. "If we've all got to get together and get some buses and go to Lansing, then let's do it."

But Mr. Wilburn added after the meeting that it's clear Bedford is "also going to have to come up with some ways to help ourself," toward which he is developing some proposals.

Noting that Michigan's 19-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax is among the lowest in the region, Mr. Olson said its effectiveness is further diluted by 20 percent "carve-outs" for purposes such as public transit and economic development programs. And although Michigan also collects sales tax on motor fuel, unlike many other states, none of that money goes directly into transportation, he said.

Some speakers questioned whether the materials specifications that Michigan road agencies use for paving projects are partly to blame, saying Monroe County's local roads don't seem as durable as neighboring counties' do.

Others, meanwhile, said the problem runs deeper than just a bumpy ride and busted tires. Monroe County's bad roads present the potential for tragedy if a school-bus driver were to lose control on rough pavement or if a concrete chunk kicked up by a truck were to smash someone's windshield.

Mr. Olson said he is lobbying to address one of the county's busier thoroughfares, Samaria Road, which until the 1970s was M-151 and has miles of crumbling concrete-slab pavement for which reconstruction has been estimated as high as $20 million. But because it's not a state highway, he said, alternatives for state funding are limited.

Meanwhile, James Goebel, a Bedford Township trustee, said the best-case scenario for some of the lesser roads that are falling apart, such as Rauch, could be grinding up their crumbling pavement into gravel because the money just won't be there to repave all of them.

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

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