Officials: Sterling Heights would lose road dollars under state plan

City asks Lansing to tweak road funding plan

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 26, 2019

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The Sterling Heights City Council is making its dissatisfaction known over Lansing’s proposed plans to raise taxes for road funding.

During an Aug. 20 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, the panel voted 6-0 to pass and send a resolution to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state lawmakers imploring them to come up with a long-term road repair plan that adequately funds municipal needs. Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski was absent for the council vote.

Whitmer revealed her 2020 fiscal year budget plan back in March. That plan called for hiking the gas tax by 45 cents per gallon to raise around $2.5 billion every year for roads.

However, Sterling Heights officials say local governments would only get a tiny portion of the new funding under the proposal. And officials fear that another part of Whitmer’s proposal would eliminate transferred money from the general fund to roads in 2021, resulting in a net loss of road funding for the city.

“The bottom line is that the city of Sterling Heights would lose over $600,000 in road funding under the current budget proposal,” a city memo states.

During the Aug. 20 meeting, Finance and Budget Director Jennifer Varney said the proposed distribution of the new funding would differ from how the state’s existing Act 51 funding model distributes road money.

Varney said the new proposal’s formula for additional revenue would devote 70% to state roads, 15% to county roads and only 6% to municipal roads. In contrast, Act 51 money is divvied up 39%, 39% and 22%, respectively, she said.

“Although we applaud the effort by the governor to solve the road funding crisis, the plan in its current form will actually hurt road funding for Sterling Heights,” Varney said.

The Sterling Heights resolution welcomes a state solution to fix roads and bridges statewide, but city officials want to change how the money is distributed so that municipalities can meet their local needs for repairs. The resolution also asks Lansing to think about topics like “weight limits, quality control and the impact of increased fuel efficiency.”

Councilman Michael Radtke criticized the current state budget proposal, and he hopes that the governor and the Legislature come up with a better solution.

“Just the idea that the places where people live are getting less money while the places people don’t live are getting more — it just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “And the idea that we’re going to be further shortchanged by the state is amazing.”

Mayor Michael Taylor praised Varney’s presentation and expressed his own frustration over the state proposal. He said state Rep. Nate Shannon  —  a former Sterling Heights city councilman — is aware of how it would affect the city and has been in touch with his Lansing colleagues over it.

“I give the governor kudos for trying to solve this problem … but this is not the formula,” he said. “Forty-five cents is a nonstarter for most people. Just wait till they find out it’s not going to trickle down in any meaningful way to our roads here. It’s downright ridiculous.”

Taylor said many people from across the region and the state use roads in Sterling Heights, especially Metropolitan Parkway, Mound Road and Van Dyke Avenue. He said the state plan, as is, wouldn’t solve the city’s road funding problems — it would only exacerbate them. He believes that the city’s resolution will send a message.

“We have had discussions with the governor and the governor’s office, so they know what’s going on here,” he said.


Roadwork continues
During the meeting, city officials also discussed progress on their road construction schedule.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool said roadwork on 14 Mile Road, between Dequindre and Ryan roads, hasn’t yet begun, but it’s supposed to start in September and wrap up by November.

“The work is all engineered and ready to go,” he said.

Among the other major roadwork, Vanderpool said, progress on 18 Mile Road from Ryan Road to Mound Road is “ahead of schedule, so it is now complete.” Additionally, 19 Mile Road roadwork from Schoenherr Road to Hayes Road is “making steady progress,” and work on Merrill Road from 18 1/2 Mile Road to M-59 is “progressing nicely.”

Schoenherr Road is “well under construction” between the Clinton River to just south of Canal Road, Vanderpool added.

City officials said the local roads targeted for repairs in 2019 include portions of Alper, Ascot, Davison, Eldorado, Fox Hill, Gina, Johnson, Kennedy, Locklin, Maas, Mustang, Newell,  Shelley Lynne, Sturbridge, Tarragon, Valusek and Veronica drives. Other roads on the list include Belle and Hatherly courts, as well as Plumridge Boulevard, according to the city. Asphalt resurfacing has been scheduled to occur at Fox Hill Drive, Fortner Drive and Sterritt Street.

“In total, our road projects this construction season will have exceeded $24 million,” Vanderpool added.

City officials said the need for quality roads makes the November vote to renew the Safe Streets millage all the more important because it raises more than $3 million per year to fix streets.

“No matter what the solution the governor and the Legislature finally agree upon, it will not impact the need for the Safe Streets renewal in order to continue the progress on our neighborhood streets,” Varney said.

In an email, Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Cranson said Whitmer’s proposed plan “would do a great deal for the people of Sterling Heights.”

“All of the heavily traveled roads — county mile roads, Utica and Plumbrook roads, etc., state trunklines (M-59 and M-53) — would be eligible for additional funds,” he said.

“The plan aims to invest the money in the roads with the most commercial and commuter traffic. Because of four decades of underinvestment in Michigan roads, we cannot fix this problem overnight.

“But this plan seeks to expedite the process by focusing on the roads where the most people drive and restoring as many as possible in the shortest amount of time.”

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