Construction, Government, and Sustainability

Is mass transit the answer to road woes?

April 24, 2015
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LANSING — The May 5 ballot proposal to raise sales taxes for road improvements might be just a start toward fixing the state’s transportation needs.

For many years, officials haven’t been fixing roads but patching them, said Denise Donohue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.

“Currently, we are simply patching potholes, which just puts a Band-aid over the problem,” Donohue said.

“If there is a pothole, that means there is a crack in the road bed that is allowing water to get through and freeze and so forth. So really, a bigger repair is what’s needed.”

A legislative report from 2011 says such quick fixes only last up to three years for roads in fair condition, and not even a full year for roads in poor condition.

Less than one in five Michigan roads is listed in good condition.

The 2011 report, released by then-state Rep. Rick Olson, indicates that keeping Michigan roads in shape would cost far more than the $1.2 billion a year expected for transportation if voters pass Proposal 1 to raise sales taxes by 1 cent on the dollar.

Right now, the report estimates annual need at $1.4 billion, with that number increasing to $2.6 billion by 2023.

Donohue said most people don’t understand how much it costs to repair roads, which is somewhere between $140,000 and $350,000 per mile to grind it down and then resurface.

One solution being explored is to take some cars off the road through public and mass transportation.

The Michigan Land Use Institute has not taken a formal position on Proposal 1, but it is exploring the possibility of creating new passenger train service between Ann Arbor and Traverse City, according to Jim Bruckbauer, transportation policy specialist for the institute.

“There is no doubt that I think we need to invest in both roads and our passenger transportation system,” in addition to the state’s rail network, Bruckbauer said.

Bruckbauer said the Michigan Department of Transportation went to local communities in 2011 to find out what people wanted from rail service in Michigan, and the No. 1 desire was a passenger train to Traverse City.

The state still owns the land and the tracks between Ann Arbor and Traverse City used for freight train service.

According to Michael Frezell, an MDOT spokesperson, overall public transportation ridership increased about 3.5 percent between 2004 and 2014.

“More people have moved into the urban areas, and a lot of younger people are using transit more because they like to be able to use the bus service and use their iPhones and smart devices, versus having to drive,” Frezell said.

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