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Michigan Department of Transportation

Posted by Ralph Wirtz on

Ralph Wirtz

Ralph Wirtz

I’ve done a bit of traveling across the state of Michigan this year, including a jaunt to the U.P. and a trip last week to the Artprize exhibition in Grand Rapids. I’ve driven on good roads and on some bad ones. I’ve seen lots of orange barrels and one-lane highways, signs that improvements are on the way, despite having the feeling that the Michigan Department of Transportation and in the federal bureaucracy are not using funds wisely in this time of economic crisis.

So I was surprised this week when I read an article derived from a state bipartisan study group that recommended that Michigan come up with $1.2 billion a year to fix its deteriorating road and bridges. That $1.2 billion is on top of the $1.4 billion the state already spends on what it calls “highway spending.”

While I don’t doubt that the decrease in gasoline tax collected in Michigan is part of an overall problem that has led at least three studies in the past four years (none done by outside agencies) to recommend increasing taxes, I don’t have to drive far to be reminded that our antiquated system of doing road projects hasn’t helped. For instance, drive from Clare to Bay City and you will see all new signage, even though almost no one thought that the old signage was bad. It was a project that was set in motion before the current economic crisis that couldn’t be stopped. The Daily News was told by state officials that because it was a federal project it had to go through or we risked losing federal funding.

Another reminder occurred as I was nearing Grand Rapids on I-96 last week. There a very nice electronic sign told me I was so many miles from downtown Grand Rapids. The electronic signs are part of a system in the state put up recently to help drivers avoid traffic tie-ups ahead or to relay other emergency information. Nice as they are, the millions spent on these signs that hardly get used for their intended purpose, could have repaired a few bridges, or a few miles of roads. By the way, the MDOT even has one on U.S. 2 in the Upper Peninsula. When is the last time you were in a traffic tie-up on U.S. 2?

Just this year, the Federal Highway Administration has awarded $1.975 million for a pedestrian/bike trail on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail and $1 million for a pedestrian/bike trail in Iron County on the Scenic Byway. In tough economic times, these projects could, and should, wait.

Gov. Rick Snyder is going to make an announcement Oct. 24 on the state of our transportation system. Maybe everyone should bone up on where our money is actually going to see if the governor’s plan is a good one, or more of the same.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.

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