Turns out Gretchen Whitmer says she needs more time to fix the damn roads
But we’re making great progress. We’ve repaired over 13,000 lane miles (and) 900 bridges. If we hadn’t done anything, the problem would have gotten much worse.”
The day after her election victory in 2018 said Whitmer “People really sent us a very clear message: they want us to fix the damn roads.”
In 2019, Whitmer proposed increasing Michigan’s 27-cent gas tax by 45 cents per gallon, which would have given the state the highest tax rate in the country.
But the plan went nowhere in the Republican-led legislature, and even Democrats distanced themselves from the proposal a poll showed was rejected by 75 percent of the residents.
Instead, Whitmer has bypassed lawmakers with a $3.5 billion bond scheme while the state GOP has slammed the governor for not repairing the roads himself and has signaled plans to do so Remind voters of potholes early and often in election year.
Whitmer is trying to “shift the goalposts” on her 2018 campaign pledge, Eric Ventimiglia, executive director of conservative advocacy group Michigan Rising Action, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Anyone who drives the streets of Michigan knows that ‘fix the damn roads’ was just a bogus promise to win an election.”
Whitmer scoffed at the criticism.
“Ironically, it will have been the leadership of this (Republican) party that stood in the way of a real solution,” she told Bridge Michigan.
Whitmer’s loan program is expected to fund the rebuilding of dozens of state highways and bridges — but not local roads. To date, the Michigan Department of Transportation has issued $1.6 billion worth of bonds.
Despite the investment, experts believe Michigan’s roads will continue to deteriorate in the years to come. In 2021, only 25 percent of state roads and 20 percent of local roads were rated as in good condition Michigan Transportation Asset Management Councilwhich estimates that only 19 percent of roads will remain in good condition by 2033.
A $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill is expected to provide Michigan with an additional $2.3 billion in road and bridge financing over five years. Whitmer has proposed using the first $428 million in fiscal 2023, including $334 million for the state and $94.4 million for local roads and bridges.
Michigan is already moving “dirt” and “we’ll be able to check a lot more” because of the federal government’s “huge investment,” Whitmer said Wednesday in a news conference on Mackinac Island with US Secretary of State for Transportation Pete Buttigieg .
Michigan is “extraordinarily well positioned to take advantage of the new federal dollars” because Whitmer has had a “running start” by focusing on state-level infrastructure, Buttigieg said in a conference speech, noting that Whitmer made him “the secretary of Fix the Damn” calls roads.”
“The American transportation and infrastructure sector now has a level of government support that we haven’t seen in most of our lifetimes,” said Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who recently bought a home near Traverse City has where his husband grew up.
Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive directive to expedite state approval of infrastructure projects that will cost $50 million or more, which will allow Michigan to pump new federal infrastructure funding into roads “more efficiently and effectively.”
Motorists will see the difference this summer during what she predicts will be Michigan’s “busiest construction season ever,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer this year vetoed Republican legislation to suspend state gas taxes for six months at record-high prices, citing the potential impact on infrastructure funding.
She’s indicated she’s ready to consider a shorter “hiatus.” Negotiations are underway, the governor said on Wednesday.
While they disagreed on how or if new government revenue should be generated, Whitmer and the GOP-led legislature had little trouble spending federal dollars. The Democratic governor and GOP leaders struck a $4.7 billion deal in March that would use state surpluses and federal stimulus money to fund repairs and upgrades to the state’s aging infrastructure.
The mid-year spending plan included more than $1.7 billion for projects to improve drinking water and sanitation systems, $450 million for parks and trails, $317 million for road and bridge repairs, and $250 million for Dollars for broadband infrastructure grants to expand service.
This bipartisan deal used $945 million from the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But that’s just a fraction of the $10 billion in new and existing federal funding the state will receive over five years for transportation, water and broadband infrastructure.
Whitmer has also created a new Michigan Infrastructure Office to oversee spending plans and collaborative projects. The state is also focused on a new “highway strategy” to improve key corridors across the state designed to help people “feel the positive impact” in the “hearts of communities,” Whitmer said in the news conference with Buttigieg.
Six months after President Joe Biden signed the bill, which included bipartisan support from Republican lawmakers like retired Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, the federal government has already allocated more than $100 billion in new infrastructure funding to states, Buttigieg said .
No long-term solution
Experts say even the massive influx of federal funds won’t be enough to fix Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure, especially amid inflation and supply chain problems that are driving up prices for labor and materials.
The federal dollars can help maintain infrastructure for a few years while Michigan officials look for longer-term solutions, said Rob Coppersmith, executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.
“Federal money is what I would consider a down payment on our future,” Coppersmith told Bridge on Wednesday. “The reality is, if we don’t do something in the next few years … we’re going to be back to deficit spending.”
One solution, he said, is the introduction of the “vehicle-miles driven” tax, a policy that taxes drivers based on miles driven rather than fuel consumption. In 2020 they were According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, 86.3 billion miles were traveled on all roads.
The idea “appears to be gaining popularity in many quarters,” including some in the state legislature, Coppersmith said. For example, House lawmakers have provided funding for a study of vehicle miles driven in its proposed budget, although the final version will come after lawmakers negotiate with the Democratic governor.
“Then we have a structure that stays in place forever, so it doesn’t matter if your car runs on grape juice or gas, everyone pays the same to drive on our road,” Coppersmith said.
Recent polls conducted for the Detroit Regional Chamber suggest that roads and infrastructure remain a top concern for Michigan voters, surpassed only by concerns about the economy and inflation.
According to a Glengariff Group Inc. poll of 600 registered voters, about 13 percent of voters named roads as the most important issue for the state.
Buttigieg acknowledged that inflation and supply chain problems threaten to weaken the purchasing power of state and local governments committed to funding federal infrastructure. He blamed global and historical factors that preceded the Biden administration.
Decades of “underinvestment in every part of our transportation infrastructure left us vulnerable to shocks, and then we had the mother of all shocks,” Buttigieg said, referring to COVID-19.