Michigan DOT Wants Toll Roads, 3 Reasons To Say Hell No, +Fixes
Michigan is infamous for having some of the worst roads in the United States. Since we have over 122,000 miles of public roadway... that's an awful lot of potholes to dodge. Below, I'll cover how and how much we're taxed, how those tax dollars are distributed and offer three reasons & solutions to our third world-country road conditions. (I've also "showed my work" behind this opinion. The information is all sourced if you want more detail.)
Is Michigan really thinking about adding toll roads?
Michigan Department of Transportation is saying a few Toll Roads (freeways) would bring in a billion dollars or more in revenues. (Read through the lengthy study findings here, if you'd like to nerd out.)
They're thinking it would be beneficial to the state to consider approving them. Of course, they're thinking it would be great -- a billion more or so in the coffers, why not (sarcasm)?
Michigan ranks 6th in the nation when it comes to gas taxes.
We're sixth in the country, great (more sarcasm). What's most infuriating is knowing we pay insane amounts of taxes that supposedly goes to fixing roads, already. Take a look:
- $0.615 tax per gallon of gas (2022) -- goes up to appx $.70/gal this year.
- $0.679 tax per gallon of diesel fuel (2022) -- goes up to appx $.70/gal this year.
- State Sales Tax on the total fill-up for your vehicle
- Federal Fuel tax (shared throughout the country)
- Vehicle Registration/Tags/Plates
- Automotive-related sales tax (dealers, buyers, sellers pay special taxes)
- Marijuana and "other" taxes
- (Electric vehicles in Michigan have a $140 annual surcharge, too.)
Related: 2023 Genesee County Round-Abouts & Road Construction
So, why aren't Michigan roads better?
Let's understand how the massive amount of "revenue" (aka taxes) is divided. The annual amount dedicated to Michigan's Transportation Fund (MTF) from all of the tax "revenue" combined is approximately $3.553 Billion. (Latest from 2022 figures.)
The MTF receives "road user fees" restricted by the Constitution and are distributed to road and transit agencies based on a formula in Act 51 of 1951:
- 36% to State Highways
- 35% to 83 County Road Commissions
- 20% to 531 Villages and Cities
- 9% to 81 Public Transit Agencies and Statewide Public Transportation
2023 Oakland County Road Construction Projects
Reasons Michigan's roads are terrible.
- The MTF formula from 1951 is outdated.
- In 1951 Michigan's automotive industry was thriving and so were many of the cities/villages. Tax revenues were flowing freely.
- It's time to revise the formula -- even if it's for 5-10 years. Shift more to villages and cities. It doesn't have to be giant, but it needs to happen. For example, Bristol Road through Burton that hasn't been fixed properly in 20 years and the Bricks on Saginaw Street in Downtown Flint haven't been fixed in decades. Name your favorite Michigan city or village and insert the road name across the state.
- Broken promises from every politician and elected leader along the way. Most recently:
- Governor Snyder upped the state's gas taxes, before he left office, with the goal of improving the roads (2015).
- Governor Whitmer famously ran for office with the solution to "fix the damn roads." In November of 2022 the Detroit Free Press reported Whitmer acknowledges an entirely new approach is needed.
- Terrible money management at the state level.
- Politicians are famously terrible at balancing budgets. Recently, MLive reported the state is projecting a $9.2 billion surplus and may cut income taxes. Great. Cut income taxes a bit and give the cities/villages a few billion to improve roads at the same time. It's not impossible to do two things at once.
Related: I-475 in Genesee County Slated for Massive Overhaul
Does Michigan need toll roads?
Do we need 14 toll roads (freeways) because MDOT's study says we could get approximately $1B more in revenue at the state level? Absolutely (swear word of your choice here) not. Learn how to spend our taxpayer dollars in the first place. They're taxing us so much now; they have a projected $9.2B surplus.
It's our own fault. We keep voting people into office and never hold them to account for their piss-poor decision-making. If we want more money in our pay checks & better roads at the same time, tell your representation. If it isn't handled, vote accordingly.