MARQUETTE - As the country's national leaders discuss how best to tackle America's growing infrastructure problem, Michigan is finding itself on the wrong side of the equation as roads and bridges across the state continue to deteriorate.
And the next few years could be critical, according to Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle.
"If we don't do something, the next three years is going to be very rapid deterioration in the state trunkline network," he said while visiting the Upper Peninsula last week.
According to information provided by MDOT, the Upper Peninsula's roads are currently in comparatively good condition. Only 1.2 percent are rated poor - roughly 51 lane miles out of 4,229.
However, as the years go on, that percentage increases at an incredibly rapid rate.
By 2013, 66 lane miles in the U.P. will be in poor condition. By 2016, that number jumps to 706 lane miles and in 2017 leaps to 1,334 lane miles, or 31.5 percent of roads in the U.P.
Poor roads mean more vehicle repair, and Michiganders are already paying more than their Midwestern counterparts to keep their vehicles in good condition, while paying markedly less to maintain their roads.
"We pay, on average, $81 more than the surrounding states do for vehicle repair, which is directly related to condition of roads," Steudle said.
However, Michigan invests the least, per person, in their transportation network of any surrounding Midwestern states.
According to MDOT, Michigan residents pay $174 per person, while Illinois residents pay $235 and Minnesotans pay a whopping $315.
"This is an infrastructure deficit," Steudle said. "We are using the infrastructure. We are not paying for it and what we're going to push off is a system that needs major, major, major investment and that's not fair. The generation before us built this amazing transportation network and it's our responsibility to keep it up. To me, that's really the crux of where we're at."
Steudle said the deep recession that gripped the nation - but hit Michigan especially hard - kept Michigan's legislature from investing in the state's transportation network.
"We didn't push them to say 'Fix this,' because it wasn't a priority to us," he said. "Now we, meaning MDOT, are saying, 'No, we have to do this because this is what's coming. We can see what's coming .. and we can't wait any longer."
Steudle is pushing for an increase of $1.2 billion per year to maintain the state's infrastructure, emphasizing the importance of a "pay now" model, versus a "pay later" model.
"We can invest in the next 10 years, about $1.2 billion per year and keep the roads in a decent condition," Steudle said. "If we don't, if we just sit back and wait, and after 10 years we do nothing, then we can spend $25 billion to bring it back to the same condition. So, it's really a pretty simple answer."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.