Rough riding

Most roads in poor condition in NE Michigan

Crews work on a reconstruction project on Park Place in downtown Alpena on Friday. Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council ratings show that, in Northeast Michigan, there are more roads rated in poor condition than in good or fair. Some townships have millages dedicated to roads and are seeing their ratings improve.

ALPENA — More roads in Northeast Michigan are in poor condition than those classified as good or fair, according to the latest ratings from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council.

And those roads will continue to deteriorate without a shift in the way funding is distributed, officials said.

The only surefire way to improve the road system is an increase in funding allocated to small, rural counties and cities, officials said. There’s evidence to support that: In Northeast Michigan, the communities with the best roads are those with local taxes dedicated to their repair, according to an analysis of roads ratings by The News.

When or if more money will come is the million-dollar question as the road-funding debate rages on in Lansing. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants a 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike that Republicans who control the Legislature oppose.

ALPENA COUNTY

There are two different categories of roads that are graded each year: ones that can be repaired with federal dollars — usually primary roads — and those that can’t, which are local streets.

Alpena County has 125 miles of federally funded roads and, according to a County Road Association of Michigan report from the first quarter of this year, 72% are graded good or fair and 28% poor. Local roads in Alpena County are rated 44% good or fair and 56% poor.

Federally funded roads include Long Rapids Road, Werth Road, and Hubbard Lake Road, to name a few.

Alpena County Road Commission Managing Director Larry Orcutt said that, last year, the county received about $450,000 in federal funding for roads, but that amount doesn’t even cover the cost of one mile of needed maintenance.

Despite that, Orcutt said the county has done a good job keeping paved, high-traffic streets in good condition.

“We have been successful for the last couple decades in keeping our federal-aid-eligible, primary system in fairly decent shape,” Orcutt said. “We have had a proactive pavement maintenance program where we are putting sealcoat on top of pavement to prolong their life. All of that contributes to higher ratings.”

A couple of neighboring counties are worse off.

PRESQUE ISLE

COUNTY

In Presque Isle County, 65% of its 172 miles of primary paved roads are recorded as being in poor shape. The numbers are strikingly worse for local, non-federally funded roads, at 88% poor.

According to the Presque Isle County Road Commission Superintendent/Managing Director Jerry Smigelski, the county received $445,393 in federal funding, and that funding can be burned through quickly.

He said the county has done several large projects on county roads 451 and 638 with the federal money, but many other projects need to be addressed.

As far as the local roads in disrepair, Smigelski said the county, by law, can only pay 65% of the cost for such roads, and the remaining 35% falls on often cash-strapped townships.

Smigelski said that, out of the 14 townships in the county, three have special property taxes dedicated to road construction and two others have property taxes that are split between fire, ambulance and roads. The other nine townships have no such property tax and depend on grants or their general fund to pay their portions of road costs.

At this point, it doesn’t seem like a countywide road millage is in the cards, Smigelski said.

“They just don’t have the money to do anything, so they either do a special assessment or don’t do anything at all,” he said. “The last time we tried for a county road millage was in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and it failed. The board revisited the idea last year, but didn’t want to do it because they feel the people are being taxed enough.”

MONTMORENCY, ALCONA COUNTIES

The roads in Montmorency County aren’t much better off.

There, County Road Association report shows 60% of the 112 miles of federally funds-eligible roads are poor and 63% of local roads are also in poor condition.

In Alcona County, the road grades aren’t great, but crews are making progress.

According to the grading report, Alcona County has scores of 45% good or fair for primary, paved roads and 55% in poor condition.

It’s a different story for local, non-federally funded roads.

The county has 215 miles of local roads and the report shows 58% are rated good/fair and 42% poor.

Alcona County Road Commission Managing Director Jesse Campbell attributed his county’s fair ratings to property taxes in the townships.

Campbell said nine of the 11 townships in Alcona County have roads taxs, including several in the 2- to 2.5-mill range. Those would cost the owner of a $100,000 house between $100 and $125 a year.

Campbell said those taxes have brought in significant revenue, allowing the townships pay 75% of the cost for maintenance for local roads and provide a 50-50 split with the county for primary roads.

Campbell said each township has a three- to five-year road plan to prioritize projects. He said the strategy is to keep the highly rated roads healthy with continued investment, then allocate funding to roads in poor shape afterward.

“We go to our best roads and make sure they stay that way,” he said. “It is like maintaining a car. You don’t wait until the engine blows up before you put oil in it. If you maintain them, they will last.”

Campbell said another reason local roads in his county are graded higher is because of the effort to sealcoat gravel roads.

“I don’t think there are many counties, especially around us, that are doing it,” he said.

MORE MONEY NEEDED

In Alpena County, Orcutt said the bottom line is more money is needed to bring local roads up to par. The bulk of that money will likely need to come from local taxpayers, he said.

Currently, only two of the eight townships in Alpena County — Long Rapids and Green townships — have roads taxes.

“Basically, it falls back on us as residents and taxpayers,” he said. “If we want to see improvement, we have to fund it.” he said.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.

Road grades by county

A look at how roads in Northeast Michigan are rated

Federal Aid Non- Federal Aid

County Good/ Fair Poor Good/Fair Poor

Alcona 45% 55% 58% 42%

Alpena 72% 28% 44% 56%

Presque Isle 35% 65% 12% 88%

Montmorency 40% 60% 37% 63%

Statewide 45% 55% 36% 64%

* Primary paved roads that are eligible for federal funding

** Local roads not eligible for federal funding in most instances.

Source: Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council