Bridging The Gap To Meet Needs

November 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — With the barrel price of crude oil spilling over the $97 mark and selling at a record high, Grand Valley Metro Council Transportation Director Abed Itani wondered out loud what that price would do to the cost of construction materials such as concrete, fuel and asphalt.

Of course, Itani knows those costs will rise in tandem with crude oil prices — as do the other members of the Metro Council. But what Itani and the board don't know is how high the price of a brick, a gallon of gas or a bucket of tar will go.

Those upcoming, but unknown, higher costs were one reason GVMC passed a resolution that requests more funding for roads, bridges and transit systems.

"There is going to be a lot of discussion about this, even during an election year," said Don Stypula, GVMC executive director.

"It has to be a comprehensive approach — not just state, but federal as well," he said, adding that the Metro Council is sending its resolution to Lansing and Washington, D.C., with at least one copy going to the White House.

Stypula said roads, bridges and transit systems are vital to the region's economic health, and the current funding plan leaves the region $2.5 billion short of the amount the area is projected to need over the next 25 years.

Michigan Department of Transportation Region Engineer Roger Safford said the state inspects most bridges every other year and spends $191 million annually just on bridge repairs. He also said 26 of the 311 bridges in KentCounty are categorized as being structurally deficient, which means the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert is in "poor" shape.

Being rated poor gives a bridge a score of four on the national rating of bridge conditions, a scale that ranges from one through nine, with nine representing a bridge in excellent condition. At least two bridges in the region have a rating of three.

Statewide, 608 of the 4,402 highway bridges are listed as being structurally deficient.

"Unfortunately, funding isn't available to complete work on all bridges," said Safford, who stopped short of saying that the funding was also structurally deficient.

GVMC member Tom Fehsenfeld, also president of Crystal Flash, said the resolution was important. He wasn't certain, though, how much of an effect it will have on state lawmakers, Congress and the president.

"Realistically, our voice is pretty small," he said.

But Fehsenfeld said he hoped the council's action would serve to fuel other planning and transportation agencies to take the same action.    

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