Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

St. Joseph County hopes for more road money

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By HYONHEE SHIN
Capital News Service

LANSING – Southwest Michigan drivers may continue to see better roads to drive next year, along with occasional construction delays.

A bill by Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, would provide $419 million for state and local road and bridge repairs for the fiscal year 2010 that begins Oct. 1.

The proposal would use federal stimulus grants for $213 million for road and bridge construction, $200 million for local road improvements and $6 million for railroad crossing repairs.

Like many counterparts across the state, the St. Joseph County Road Commission has been forced to make budget cuts because of a reduction in the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF), said Manager Bruce Jones.

“We don’t get enough monthly checks,” said Jones. “We’ve lost nearly a half-million dollars in our budget over the past three years.”

The MTF money, which it uses for day-to-day operations, has continued to decline since January 2005. By the end of 2009, it will have decreased by $600,000.

The commission’s property tax revenue, meantime, increased $107,000 in the same time period, but that money can be used only for routine road maintenance, not to build bridges, and mainly in small urban areas, such as Sturgis and Three Rivers, Jones said.

Declining funds from the primary road repair revenue sources – gasoline taxes and vehicle license fees – make it difficult to keep roads in good condition, Jones said.

“There are 1,000 miles of roads that are not funded for repairs,” he said. “We have to cut back, as far as paying for construction.”

In addition, the road commission reported that the last two winters have been tough. It cost $1 million to remove nearly 90 inches of snowfall last winter alone, and the cost was just below that of 2008.

Because of the money spent in the winter, summer work was cut back, and the commission did not hire summer help this year.

“Summer time is relatively nice,” said Jones. “We have to save money for winter.”

Consequently, the road commission cut back on its chip-and-seal program this year because of budget cuts, Jones said.
Chip-and-seal is a maintenance project for about 55 miles of county roads. The process includes sealing cracks in the road surfaces and widening the causeway of Langley Covered Bridge and placing new guardrails.

With federal stimulus money available, Jones said, maintenance and repair activities would increase significantly.
“I’m hoping to take advantage of the federal stimulus package,” said Jones. “It’s nice to share, but there are 83 road commissions across the state so I’m not sure how that would work.”

The bill’s co-sponsors include Reps. James Bolger, R-Marshall; Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton; John Proos, R-St. Joseph; Larry DeShazor, R-Portage; and Matt Lori, R-Constantine.

The bill is pending in the House Appropriations Committee.

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