Regional MDOT partnership on the right road

August 9, 2013
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Michigan Department of Transportation Grand Region representatives updated Grand Valley Metropolitan Council members on planned road improvement projects for the coming year. One could read that sentence with some measure of optimism — there are projects — or with focus on the word “planned.” In any case, such plans are of thin cloth, tenuous threads which might also describe Michigan’s road system.

Recent Business Journal discussion with State Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, and State Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, provided an acknowledged unlikelihood that the Michigan legislature would act at all before the end of the next election cycle to make some tough decisions on road funding. This, despite urgent calls for permanent, additional funding from Gov. Rick Snyder and a universally supportive business community, which continues to pay what amounts to cost shifting in lieu of necessary funding from taxes or fees. At best, the two legislative houses may hold more “hearings” in the guise toward “resolution.” The delay tactics continue to be served up by wimps in lieu of real solutions from leaders.

While the associated problems are sorted and stashed in committees, Business Journal reporters witnessed comments of appreciation and a sense of partnership during the MDOT Grand Region report to Metro Council’s several regional leaders. The division is responsible for 3,000 miles of state roadway and bridges in West Michigan. MDOT Director of Government Affairs Kelly Bartlett said MDOT has three public-private funding partnerships that are in the works and the trio will be reviewed by the state commission on transportation. “We have to give them reasons to believe that we’re operating differently,” he said.

Local units of government, even with depleted revenue sharing, also continue to pay in lieu of state remedy, not just business owners. GVMC Executive Director John Weiss noted the latest data shows local governments are spending large amounts of money on road projects while lawmakers seem conveniently unaware of such expenditures in the legislatures’ stead.

Grand Rapids Mayor and GVMC board member George Heartwell made a point of telling MDOT representatives that state lawmakers need to find out for themselves how well the regional office operates, and complimented MDOT for its relationships in the Grand Region.

That at least would be a start in the right direction for legislators, for the benefit of Michigan residents instead of the isolation tactics of special interests.

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