By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Service
LANSING – As Michigan’s economy continues to crumble, so does its roads and some hard-pressed counties are grinding up asphalt rather than repaving them.
In 2009, that includes 2.5 miles of Fenwick Road, a 5-mile section of Lake Montcalm Road and a 1.7-mile section of McBrides Road all in Montcalm County according to the County Roads Association of Michigan (CRAM).
Montcalm County is one of 24 counties to decide to turn some roads to gravel. Over the past three years, the number of county road agencies returning paved roads to gravel has more than tripled.
At the same time, 79 of the 83 county road agencies have reduced maintenance, preservation or construction programs, CRAM said.
According to surveys, at least 100 miles of paved roads have been returned to gravel statewide, including about 35 miles in 2009 alone.
In 2010, half of Michigan’s county road agencies will face such decisions.
Monica Ware, the CRAM public relations specialist, said one aspect of deciding to turn roads to gravel is safety.
“If a road can be saved and safe for drivers to drive on, then we won’t gravel it,” Ware said.
Some residents want roads to stay paved but the state doesn’t have enough funding to keep repairing all roads, Ware said.
Gas taxes have declined, decreasing money for roads. Taxes for transportation are less due to better fuel consumption and less driving for commuters leaving less money for roads.
The price of road construction materials, such as steel, concrete and asphalt, has greatly increased. The price of salt has doubled.
In Kalamazoo County, the road commission isn’t looking to turn roads into gravel.
“It cost money to put roads to gravel, too,” said the general superintendent of the road commission, Travis Bartholomew.
Once roads go to gravel, maintenance continues, Bartholomew said. So to say it saves money isn’t entirely true.
Gravel can cause safety, nuisance and cost problems, he said.
Keith Ledbetter, director of legislative affairs for Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said there is a lack of political will and desire to make decisions to fix this on-going problem.
“Legislators and the governor don’t want to make the tough decisions to fix the problem – only short term fixes that don’t solve the problem – allowing the problem to exist for a long time,” Ledbetter said.
A crumbling road is a strong symbol of how the state is turning, to the Stone Age, Ledbetter said.
Crumbling roads add more problems to keep businesses in Michigan.
“No business is going to want to invest or relocate in a state that doesn’t invest on its’ local structure and itself,” Ledbetter said.
Many key components in the state’s economy – agriculture, manufacturing, automotive and energy – tie into transportation.
Residents who are used to driving on paved roads are not too fond on the change.
People who live on the streets aren’t happy and want the problem to be resolve, said Ledbetter.
“Right now there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Ledbetter said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.