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Road funding plans, solutions discussed at town hall

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 31, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — The road recently led back home for state Rep. Nate Shannon, and one of the big reasons was to find out what people think about taxes and transportation in the state.

On May 9, Shannon held a town hall meeting about roads at the Sterling Heights Senior Center. The meeting also featured an appearance by Paul Ajegba, the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Shannon represents Michigan House of Representatives District 25, which includes parts of Sterling Heights and Warren.

After the town hall, Shannon said the event was part of a broader “learning tour” to get feedback from constituents, particularly on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent gas tax increase as a way to raise money to fix the roads.

“We have a revenue problem,” he said. “It’s tough right now. People that attended the town hall were not interested in a gas tax increase.”

Shannon said some residents have floated the idea of a sales tax increase as an alternative, though he said he would not favor that. He said residents have also shared their concerns about the quality of road construction materials, the road crews’ skills, and the effects of heavy truck weights.

Shannon said the problem with roads needing to be rebuilt after they’re fixed doesn’t come from a lack of skill or the materials used, but from a lack of funding to do it right the first time.

“Our city manager (Mark Vanderpool) gave a neat perspective on some of the roads that we have,” Shannon said. “We’re putting a Band-Aid on many of our roads because we don’t have the funding. Some of the roads that we’ve been working on recently should be total reconstructs. We’re just laying asphalt material that should be torn out and rebuilt from the ground up.”

Shannon said he still has not taken a position on whether to approve the 45-cent gas tax hike. He said he is going to monitor the debate and see how it would impact his own district and give the area the road funding it needs.

As for related road repair topics, Shannon added that Sterling Heights is “doing a pretty good job” of making sure that its own roads are being fixed, and he congratulated the City Council for sticking to its word and recently sunsetting a one-year, 1-mill tax hike to fund road repairs.

However, Shannon said the neighborhood roads still need more attention, and he vowed to campaign for the renewal of the Safe Streets Millage when it returns to the ballot this November. That six-year millage devotes 1.7 mills to police and fire staffing, with the remaining 0.8 mill going toward local road repairs.

“We understand that regardless of what comes down from the state, we have to make sure that we renew this millage,” he said. “It’s going to have a serious impact if it fails.”

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said he attended the town hall.

“I thought it was great to the city of Sterling Heights to bring the MDOT director here and hold a town hall,” he said. “The roads are something that’s obviously on the top of the list in terms of what is important to us. (There’s) no more important issue.”