The Orange Barrel Summertime Blues

August 29, 2016

For many of you who follow the blog and live outside of Southeast Michigan, around here warm weather is known more popularly as the “Orange Barrel Season.” It seems like as soon as the temperature has three continuous days above freezing, work begins on repairing the roads and highways of Michigan. These roads (and bridges) rival those of a Third World country in terms of disrepair. Actually, our roads may be worse. One important reason why Michigan’s roads and infrastructure are so bad is the Michigan government.

Unlike other states that have insisted on enforcing minimum materials and construction standards, along with a guarantee of viability, Michigan governments since the Engler Administration have allowed contractors to use inferior materials and construction methods to create a virtual perpetual employment machine, moving constantly from one short-term, emergency fix to another. It has also been a government that has resisted any effective public transportation system, or enforced regulation of heavy traffic vehicles.

Since all of the highway work had been unguaranteed, it guaranteed huge tax expenditures to create emergency, and short-term fixes. It’s quite remarkable to see if you are not from Michigan. Slow-moving trucks roll along at 5 mph on a 70 mph highway for miles, causing huge traffic jams while men shovel out a gravel and tar mixture to fill in monster pot holes. Then they rely on subsequent traffic to roll over the mound to compact it down, while the rest of the tar and gravel are sent bouncing off of cars in other lanes.

Well, there’s good news and bad news in this regard with the announcement of a major road reconstruction project at one of the busiest conduits in SE Michigan, at I-75 in Oakland County. The good news is that the huge congestion of traffic creating a 10-mile-long, bumper-to-bumper commute into Wayne County and the City of Detroit will be somewhat relieved. The bad news is that the project will take 12-14 years to complete! For Oakland County residents working in Detroit, it means more than a decade of finding alternate routes or commutes extended hours longer. Imagine spending 2-3 hours or longer to drive 10 miles to work.

I’m guessing that the good conservative types in one of America’s riches counties will be wishing they had approved extending the Woodward light rail pretty soon. For the thousands of people who use I-75 as their route to Northern Michigan … just think of it as an opportunity to tour the back roads instead of a costly extension of hours in travel time. There even might be some economic benefit from the fact that hotels and restaurants will have increased business once driving to Mackinac will take an over-night trip rather than the usual 5 hours.

Or maybe we can contemplate how much of a difference government can make with regard to infra-structure – for good or bad.

 

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Planes, Trains and Impassable Roads

March 25, 2014

Anyone who travels on Michigan roads knows that many of them are virtually impassable without using extraordinary vigilance and Formula One-level steering ability. Major surface streets, such as Telegraph Road and Woodward Avenue have innumerable potholes, with many of them more than a foot deep. Maybe, just maybe, we can see the light at the end of the wheel-bending tunnel.

Now that Republican lawmakers in Lansing are finished with the important business of passing laws like requiring citizens to fly American flags only made in the U.S., they seem ready to act on Gov. Snyder’s pleas to fund road repairs at a meaningful level. I can only guess that the roads near Grand Rapids are just as bad and that the insurance companies are writing too many checks for damaged cars as the precipitant, but better a good change for bad reasons than not at all.

One potential pothole to funding road repairs is that the budget surplus of nearly $1 billion is not nearly enough to repair all roads and bridges. It would take nearly $10 billion to do the job, an estimate nearly everyone agrees is accurate. For once, Republicans are forced to admit that an essential government function (i.e. infrastructure) requires taxation. They have ignored the need for more taxes to fund road repairs so long that the roads are becoming impassable. Funding for public transportation is out of the question for Republicans as an alternative. So they have to raise a tax.

It would make sense to make high-volume, heavy vehicle corporate users and more taxation of upper level incomes to pay for much of the repairs, but then again that would make sense. Their idea: make the poor pay for it with higher gas taxes.

Go figure …