State Transportation Department Director Kirk Steudle said an extra $30 million, a third more than budgeted, is needed after near-constant snowplowing in parts of Michigan and because salt usage and costs have doubled from a year ago. Local governments are confronting similar financial problems, he said.
"We're going to see one of the biggest pavement breakouts we've probably ever seen in our lifetime," Steudle told the House transportation budget subcommittee, which met to begin considering the proposed 2014-15 budget unveiled last week by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. "The next couple months are going to be very, very interesting."
For now, the agency will tap into summer maintenance money to continue clearing highways and improving freeway lighting but likely will request a special mid-year appropriation to account for winter spending. It is possible the GOP-led Legislature could put additional money aside for counties and cities, too.
Snyder did not build into the next budget his request for gasoline tax and vehicle registration fee increases, which stalled last year despite Michigan regularly not collecting enough in transportation revenue to ensure a federal match. For the third straight year, the state will use general fund dollars — part of a nearly $1 billion budget surplus — to ensure the match comes through.
The governor "called for the fact that we have to deal with this problem. We've been pushing off this problem for 10 years," Steudle said. "We can match federal aid and it's still going to fall all apart."
Though Snyder's permanent funding solution was held up last year, lawmakers did put $230 million into a new Roads and Risks Reserve Fund. Legislators in December announced that half would fund 103 state and local projects across Michigan.
The current budget includes language stating legislative "intent" that the $115 million balance goes to roads effective Feb. 1 if not appropriated for other purposes, but talks continue among lawmakers and Snyder.
"The lion's share of us (in the House) definitely want to see it go to roads," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Haveman, R-Holland, told The Associated Press. "This winter has been tougher than average. ... A lot of our members have said we need to do something for locals, we need to get money back out as soon as the frost is out of the ground."
Snyder's next $3.6 billion transportation budget would include $254 million in one-time general fund spending, more than half to qualify for federal matching funds. The remaining $115 million for state roads and bridges would be the same amount of additional state aid committed to date in the current fiscal year.
Snow plows have been on southwest Michigan roads for 67 straight days, Steudle said. He said the purchasing power for road and bridge projects is down 30 percent from 14 years ago because of stagnant revenue as people drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles and asphalt, salt and other supply costs rise.
"With frost so deep in the ground and daily snowplowing in some areas, the wear-and-tear on our roads will show up in frightening ways this spring," said Denise Donohue, director of the County Road Association of Michigan.
Because maintenance budgets are being depleted this winter, she said, it could affect projects in the spring and summer.
"Those projects are merely stop-gap measures until a holistic solution emerges from Lansing," Donohue said.
A longer-term fix, however, is highly unlikely before the November election.