AASHTO Journal, 5 December 2014
Image of bridge with decaying concrete, from ‘Why We Need to Fix Michigan’s Roads’
Facing a fast-approaching deadline for action in the state legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle launched a final push to get a new road funding bill enacted during this month’s lame duck session, and days later saw the state House of Representatives pass its own version.
The multilayered messaging campaign included a Snyder visit to a highway repair project and a hard-hitting video featuring Steudle that describes how badly state infrastructure is fraying at today’s spending levels.
Their Dec. 1 push was followed by House passage Dec. 4 of a measure backers say could raise about $1.2 billion a year. It would be an alternative to a bill passed by the Senate last month that would reportedly generate about $1 billion, and the bills use different funding approaches, the Detroit Free Press reported. The lame duck session is scheduled to end by Dec. 18.
Snyder’s push for new funding puts Michigan in line with a number of states where governors and transportation agency officials have been proposing or exploring new revenue packages to boost investments in roads, bridges and transit systems.
Those include a new, wide-ranging funding plan offered by Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, and efforts by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to engage state legislative leaders in a dialogue to craft a bipartisan plan.
In Michigan, Snyder and Steudle on Dec. 1 visited a section of Detroit’s John C. Lodge Freeway, where a big hole next to the pavement threatened to cave in an adjacent retaining wall.
That same day the governor issued a press release headlined “Just Fix the Roads,” that said the cost of infrastructure improvements “will only get bigger the longer we wait. We can pay today or pay twice as much tomorrow.”
In that video, which cites various trouble indicators about Michigan’s transportation system as compiled by TRIP, The Road Information Program, Steudle said road and bridge conditions require so much work to repair or replace them that the choice has come down to backing a major improvement program now or having to soon replace the structures outright at perhaps 10 times the cost.
Snyder and Steudle spoke on a panel describing the system conditions, and making the case for more investment. Snyder said about 100 lives a year could be saved by improving Michigan roads, but added “that could be a conservative number when you look at chunks of concrete falling off bridges and other places like that.”
Snyder also asked Steudle to show “one of the most widely used tools to keep our bridges safe.” It was a piece of plywood. The governor explained that because the state does not have enough money to make concrete repairs, its works will build a plywood deck underneath the bridge to prevent pieces of eroding concrete from falling onto vehicles.
He urged the audience to “look up as you go underneath some of those bridges. If you see plywood, don’t feel good — you shouldn’t.”