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Lawmakers expect changes to how Michigan pays to fix roads

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A 2-mile section of I-196 was widened and reconstructed in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids in 2010. The project cost $40 million and closed the freeway for seven months.

A new study shows the conditions of Michigan’s roads will continue to decline unless the state can come up with a lot more money to maintain them. More than a third of Michigan’s roads are in poor condition.

The study was released this week by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers. It shows the state needs $1.4 billion more each year for at least 85-percent of roadways to be in good or fair condition.

State Representative Rick Olsen (R-Saline) and Representative Roy Schmidt (D-Grand Rapids) lead the Work Group on Transportation Funding.

During a presentation to leaders in Grand Rapids Wednesday, Olsen admits it’s going to take some courage for lawmakers to take action and raise the money that’s needed.

“The reason I don’t think it should be that hard to sell is because of the methodology of our study. We’ve shown that unless we spend that much money now we’re going to need to spend much more money in the future.”

Road money comes from vehicle registration fees, a gas tax and federal money. Olsen says the state will have to dramatically raise those fees or come up with an entirely new way to pay for improvements.

The gas tax will bring in less money as vehicles become more and more fuel efficient. Olsen hints that he’d like to eventually see a system based on the number of miles a person drives.

Governor Snyder is expected to say how he’d like to pay for road improvements in late October.

Executive Director of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council Don Stypula says people in transportation have been talking about the coming funding problem since the gas tax was last raised in the late 1990s.

"I'm delighted that they have finally started talking about this in the legislature seriously," Stypula said, "It's a heavy lift but it's time to do that lifting."

Olsen expects lawmakers will be able to pass legislation by the end of the year.

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s investigative reporter. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor and West Michigan Reporter.
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