KALAMAZOO, Mich. — As Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature push and pull on funding for Michigan roads, projects in the Southwest Region of the Michigan Department of Transportation are being put on hold and 41 percent of highways will fail to meet MDOT goals for road conditions by 2018.
Three significant projects on I-94 and US-31 planned in the near future will simply not be done, said MDOT Southwest Region Engineer Bobbi Welke in a news conference Wednesday. “The list of planned investments is sparse,” she said, pointing to the dwindling number of state road projects allowed by funding levels that remain static while road construction and repair costs continue to rise.
Gov. Snyder is asking lawmakers to increase highway funding by $1.5 billion a year. Legislators have balked at the governor’s proposals on how to raise that money with increased license fees and a change in the structure of gasoline taxes.
MDOT’s stated goal is to have 95 percent of Michigan’s highways rated in good or fair condition. In the Southwest Region, only 41 percent of state road miles will be rated good or fair by 2018 at the current rate of maintenance and construction, said Welke.
Due to funding, there are two major projects that MDOT has taken off the table:
- Widening I-94 between Portage Road and Sprinkle Road, a $75 million project that would have extended the six-lane stretch of I-94 that currently runs from west of US-131 to Portage Road.
- Completion of US-31 east of Benton Harbor to connect the existing expressway to I-94 and I-196, a $92 million project.
MDOT still plans on replacing the I-94 interchange at Sprinkle Road in 2015, which will replace several bridges and reconfigure the ramps for increased traffic flow and safety at a cost of $26 million. The main project in 2014 in the region will be work on the interchange at US-131 and Stadium Drive. In 2016, work will be done on the interchange of I-94 at Michigan Avenue/40th Street.
The challenges faced by MDOT are nothing new. The agency has been dealing with funding concerns for the last decade, said Nick Schirripa, the region’s communications representative.
All is not doom and gloom, said Welke. The department continues to work on maintenance and construction innovations and increase operational efficiency. One innovation already in use is a new mix of concrete that cures overnight, reducing the number of daytime lane closures needed, though use of this material is only just beginning.
And drivers are actually experiencing better traffic flow. One reason, of course, is that there is less road work to drive through. But use of more available data and cooperation with local authorities in a “quick clearance” program is getting incidents such as accidents cleared faster.
The main reason an addition of $1.5 billion in annual funding is needed is to keep future costs down. Studies show that waiting to replace pavement in the future costs 12 to 14 times as much as maintaining roads today.
But maintenance is already falling behind. “Segments of I-94 in Van Buren and Berrien Counties are in poor condition,” said Welke.