Road funding examined as Sterling braces for new repairs

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 9, 2018

STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights needs a thaw in road funding supply in order to repair the damage from the freeze-thaw cycle, according to Sterling Heights city officials.

During the March 6 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the state is not adequately funding road repairs despite legislation passed in 2015 that attempted to raise revenue for the roads.

He said the legislation raised the state gas tax from 19 cents per gallon to 25.9 cents per gallon. It also raised vehicle registration fees as well as allocated some general fund money. The aim was to add $600 million in new funding with a promise that it would reach $1.2 billion by 2021, the city manager explained.

“But here’s the big problem,” Vanderpool said. “Studies show that we need not $1.2 billion, but we need $3 billion or so in road funding, and we need that $3 billion now, as many of you experience as you travel throughout southeastern Michigan and other areas of the state.”

After the gas tax, Vanderpool said, Michigan became home to the 13th-highest gas tax nationwide and had the fifth-highest pump price, partially because Michigan applies the 6 percent sales tax to gasoline. He said those statistics have caused “consternation” among state legislators, especially toward the idea of a further increase.

“They certainly don’t want to become the highest,” Vanderpool said.

While the great majority of the state and federal gas taxes go to roads, with a small minority going to transit, much of the state sales tax on gas goes toward funding schools, Vanderpool explained.

Vanderpool estimated that Sterling Heights typically gets around $19.2 million per year for road repairs spending, including $10.6 million via the gas tax and state Act 51 money, $3.3 million from the local Safe Streets millage for neighborhood roads, $3.6 million from bond proceeds, $1 million from the general fund and $700,000 from miscellaneous sources.

Vanderpool said that while some of the worst roads are county roads, people still want action.

“Motorists are frustrated, right?” he said. “If you’re driving down Schoenherr, you’re driving down Mound Road, 14 Mile Road, you’re probably frustrated, and you’ve probably experienced some damage in your vehicle on those roads.”

Since 2014, the city has spent around $144.1 million toward the roads, and it plans to spend another estimated $100 million in the next five years, Vanderpool said.

While the city has repaired “far too many neighborhood roads to list,” there is still much to be done, adding that this year “will undoubtedly be one of our busiest road years in recent history.”

He listed $20 million in slated projects:

• Schoenherr Road from Plumbrook Drain to 15 Mile Road.

• Dodge Park Road from 15 Mile to Metropolitan Parkway.

• North Van Dyke from 18 1/2 Mile Road to M-59.

• Canal Road from Van Dyke to Saal Road.

• Mound Road from 14 1/2 Mile Road to 18 Mile Road.

• $4 million for neighborhood roads.

Vanderpool said the city is looking forward to Schoenherr’s reconstruction. He also commented on the city’s efforts with Macomb County to expedite the resurfacing work on a few miles of Mound this year — which should keep that section drivable until federal aid for a future $217 million Innovate Mound campaign can be gathered.

“I think we all agree that it’s desperately needed,” he said. “That’s going to be done this summer, so you can imagine that is going to be a massive project in and of itself.”

However, Vanderpool said a number of roads won’t get attention unless the city gets access to more money. About $4 million of possible projects include the following:

• Utica Road from Van Dyke to Schoenherr.

• 18 Mile Road from Mound to Dequindre Road.

• 15 Mile from Maple Lane Drive to Schoenherr.

• 14 Mile Road from Dodge Park Road to Utica Road.

• Metro Parkway improvements.

Finally, Vanderpool said the city plans to soon have emergency repair work done by contractor Cadillac Asphalt on 19 Mile Road between Schoenherr and Hayes Road.

To ensure that upcoming roadwork lasts, the city is always looking for new technologies, and it requires quality control measures such as testing, sampling and examination of materials. He said better road drainage systems are being installed too. Measures like these can extend road life by five to 10 years, he added.

“We’re making steady progress on roadways,” Vanderpool summarized. “We have a very ambitious plan for the next year. ... The downside is, it’s going to be a tough summer to get through in terms of congestion, backups and lane closures and so on.

“There’s not much we can do with that; we’re trying to phase these projects the best we can.”

During public comment, resident Joe Judnick called attention to the condition of Merrill Road and wanted to know when the city would fix it. He said that “without question, it’s the worst road in our city, and it’s the worst road in the county, and you all own it.”

“You can’t drive on either side, north or southbound,” he said. “At every cross-street intersection into Merrill, the concrete has failed so miserably that your car leans to the right, and there’s huge bumps.”

Vanderpool said Merrill is listed for repair in the city’s upcoming five-year plan.

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