County road projects detouredPublished 6:18pm Friday, April 29, 2011
ST. JOSEPH — Michigan Transportation Fund dollars are on the decline, while expenses continue to increase, Berrien County Road Commission officials told county commissioners Thursday.
Providing a report to the county administration committee, Road Commission Engineer/Manager Brian Berndt said the commission’s Michigan Transportation funding has decreased by more than $1 million since 2004, while expenses have increased by $3.1 million.
Michigan Transportation Funds comes from a state gas tax of 19 cents per gallon and license fees. But with declining population and rising gas prices, the funding is coming up short, Berndt said.
Many road materials have doubled in cost in the past five years. Salt, for example, has gone from about $30 a ton to $55 a ton.
Because of the budget crunch, two projects slated for 2011 have already been canceled, including a resurfacing project on Bertrand Road, from Mayflower to Weaver.
Three other 2011 projects could be on the chopping block as well, as the commission doesn’t have matching funds for the federal grant money.
“We have asked townships for the match. But when nobody has money, we’re canceling projects,” Berndt said.
That leaves 15 projects for the year that have been funded. The only local project will be the resurfacing of Glendora Road in Buchanan Township.
Not only has the commission limited its number of road projects, but it also has downsized 14 positions since 2004, closed two garage facilities and seal coated 23 fewer miles this year than in 2004.
Berndt said every seven years, a road should be seal coated, which amounts to 180 miles of road per year. But right now, the commission can only afford to seal coat 100 miles a year, partly explaining why 200 of the 1,483 miles of road commission roads were rated in poor condition in a recent study.
The road commission is proposing a county-wide road millage, the first of its kind since the 1960s, to fund more road projects. The half-mill six-year levy would generate $3.4 million per year.
John LaMore, 12th district commissioner, believes most municipalities will back the millage.
But there are some concerns.
Mac Elliott, 11th district commissioner, pointed out the levy would be an ad valorem tax and not a user fee, like the gas tax.
“Only people who own real estate will pay for road maintenance,” he said. “Everyone who lives in apartments…will not pay.”
The Michigan gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1997.