Monday, March 01, 2010

Michigan: Third World Roads

I am from Michigan. This means that I drive on the same crappy roads through much of the year that the rest of you Michiganders do.

Michigan drivers have always had to travel on roads where conditions vary between heaved, potholed, and blockaded for repair. It simply goes with the territory of living in a state where heavy road traffic is channeled onto surfaces that must also withstand a four season onslaught that includes snow, salt, freeze, thaw, rain, sun, rinse, and repeat.

Birgit Klohs, president of the Grand Rapids-based economic development group The Right Place Inc., says the state of Michigan roads makes it difficult to attract business.

“You bring a company in, you put them in a car and the first thing they do is hit potholes,” Klohs said. “We drive roads that are Third World, and that’s supposed to be the impression they have of us?”
Third world? Methinks Ms. Klohs hasn't done her fair share of traveling in third world nations lately.

I've traveled many roads in this first world nation and despite what you are being led to believe by state officials and industry advocates, Michigan is not the sole victim of bad roads. Roads are crappy coast to coast.

When MSN published a report on the 10 worst stretches of highway in America, not one Michigan strip of asphalt made the cut. Admittedly, their criteria for what made a road one of the worst included everything from bottlenecks, moose, poor signage, dangerous drivers, and road repair.

I was scandalized. While we might not have every one of those things, I nearly hit an elk a few years ago, and my idiot neighbor ought to count for something!

To my disappointment, even if we whittle our definition of "worst roads" down to include only the heaved, potholed, and cracked, Michigan is still not at the top (or bottom) of the list, at least if the 2007 TRIP (a highway analysis group) analysis is of any good.

That analysis places Michigan's roads at exactly average when compared to the rest of a potholed nation. The report takes into account all interstates, freeways, and major urban routes.

Now, we should also note that Michigan falls comfortably within the range of its region. While its average rating of 51% of good roads doesn't sound very high, it is only slightly worse than Ohio's rating of 59%, Indiana's rating of 56%, and Wisconsin's 53%, and it is still a bit better than the Minnesota, Illinois, and Pennsylvania ratings that came in at 47%, 46% and 33% respectively. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to trade 5% of road condition in just so I don't have to be called a Hoosier.

And, while Michigan officials publicly lament their inability to maintain roads unless they are infused with billions of additional taxpayer cash, they are a bit more haughty when describing their accomplishments to the rest of the nation.

From page 30 of the Rough Roads Report:
The Michigan DOT Asset Management program encompasses all the physical transportation assets in the state, including more than 9,700 miles of road, 5,679 bridges, 450,000 signs, 4,025 traffic lights, 8 million linear feet of guardrails, 83 rest areas, 13 travel information centers, 85 roadside parks, 27 scenic turnouts, and more. The program is built around five major functions: policy goals and objectives; information and date collection; planning and programming; program delivery; and monitoring and reporting.

Steudel said the program begins with setting a broad policy about the current condition of the asset and then setting a goal for where you want that asset to be within a specific time frame. For Michigan, the goal was to increase the condition of all its roads and highways, moving from 65 percent of state roads in good condition in 1997 to 90 percent in 2007. Pavement preservation was the primary tool for achieving that goal.

The department met its 90 percent goal and improved to 92 percent in 2008. A similar goal-driven asset management process is now underway for the state’s bridges.

Michigan has a statewide Transportation Asset Management Council, which brings together all the agencies in the state that have jurisdiction over roads. Its purpose is to broaden the use of transportation asset management throughout the state and ensure that groups are working together, sharing methodology, collecting the same data, and speaking the same language.

Other state DOTs are developing asset management programs as well.
Like I said, I know a rough road when I ride on one and Michigan has its fair share. I'm not even averse to paying road taxes if those taxes actually go to repairing roads at a price that doesn't require the taxpayer get shaken down by Jenny's union supporters.

What I cannot support is a government that is unable to discern that businesses seek out locations in which they are able to make good profits. Good roads, and good talent pools, and good schools, and good libraries, and nice parks, and safe prisons, and every thing else that bureaucrats want to provide our state in order to attract businesses here, are really only sustainable as the result of a profitable and growing business environment, not the other way around.

As always, bureaucrats have their carts lined up in front of the horses. Which, come to think of it, isn't even a good way to travel in a third world nation.


Hershblogger said...

I think the perception of "Governor Competence" has greater impact than the condition of the roads.

Rougman said...

At every turn the governor has misinterpreted basic economic indicators as mandates for more government controls.

This eight years cannot end quickly enough.