Michigan cities appear on lists of America’s most dangerous cities, most miserable cities, and most depressed cities. Its largest city, Detroit, filed for bankruptcy last year. (As if to romanticize its plight, Detroit buildings are a common feature of websites offering haunting photos of abandoned places.)
A victim of the auto industry decline, Michigan’s financial woes are evident in the condition of its highways as well as its houses and commercial properties. The state can ill afford to lose federal funding for road repairs and other projects.
Yet the Detroit News warned in June that federal funding could “dry up” this summer, preventing new construction on Michigan highways. Michigan depends upon the federal Highway Trust Fund for about a third of its transportation budget, roughly a billion dollars. As Congress wrangled with the threat of insolvency for the Highway Trust Fund before a June recess, state legislators in Lansing sought a consensus on how to raise $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion more per year, for road and bridge repairs. At the state and federal level, there is agreement on the need for highway funding, but disagreement as to how it should be obtained.
State officials say enough funds remain to complete summer construction projects, but Michigan desperately needs funding to prevent putting future plans on hold. According to the Detroit Free Press, the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council reported that one out of every three miles of Michigan roads eligible for federal funding was found to be in poor condition in 2013. The recent harsh winter added to the wear on Michigan’s highways, as it increased the demand for road construction and repaving in other states subject to snow and ice.
Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Cranson describes the situation as a potential embarrassment, adding that “some would say it already is.”
On June 26, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, offered a bill in the Senate Finance Committee that would provide a six-month, nine billion dollar infusion funded mainly by tax changes. Republicans rejected this idea, reflecting their opposition to tax increases. The Finance Committee opted for a one-week recess without voting.
“It’s important for the committee to get something done, but also to get it done right,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of the need for agreement on all sides.
Wyden describes the situation as “crunch time on transportation,” assuring that he would continue to work with Hatch and Republican congress members to keep highway projects from stalling.
According to Bloomberg News, “Congress has for the most part given up on trying to reach a long-term funding solution before September 30, and is instead focusing on short-term fixes to buy time.” A federal funding decision will determine the fate of about 112,000 construction projects and almost 700,000 jobs.
Among projects that have been debated in the Michigan state legislature are a Detroit River rail tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, and a customs plaza for a new Detroit River bridge. Some of this work will involve Canadian funding. The rail tunnel is needed to replace a tunnel from the turn of the twentieth century, that doesn’t accommodate modern shipping containers.