HOW WE GOT HERE: The pothole plague

HOW WE GOT HERE: The pothole plague

Crumbling and plagued with potholes,
Michigan’s roads are notoriously bad. But they’re not just bad, they’re dangerous. It was just a tremendous bang and then I was covered in glass. BINGHAM: We Michiganders put up with a lot. Months of dark skies, snow and freezing
temperatures but it’s the roads that truly test us. On a clear spring day in 2018 Sue Kempf was nearly killed by Michigan’s broken roads. As I heard the noise I jerked and I felt something go past my head. She and her
husband Craig were driving on I-94 toward Kalamazoo when a chunk of
concrete, likely kicked up by another vehicle, slammed through their windshield. My husband Craig was driving and he kept saying, “What was that?” and I looked back and there was this rock just lodged and I pulled it out and I said, “It was this.” There’s no getting around just how terrible Michigan roads are. We’re talking a
D- report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers and more than
$600 an estimated annual repair costs for drivers. Of more than 120 thousand
miles of paved roads in the state only about 20 percent are believed to be in good condition, 40 percent are considered fair and the other 40 percent poor. That’s more than 35 thousand miles in need of some serious work. We’ve become the butt of the joke.
But Michigan residents aren’t laughing. Bad roads can do a lot of damage to
vehicles. Blown tires, bent rims, tie rods, ball joints, sway bar links, wheel
bearings, sometimes even exhausts. This vehicle right here actually this is the
front tire as you can see there’s a very large hole taken out of the side wall
and this tire right here also all from one pothole. BINGHAM: The question of how to fix the roads has been a longtime political hot potato in the state and things
really got cooking during the 2018 governor’s race with then candidate
Gretchen Whitmer slogan. WHITMER: As governor I want to focus on the things that will actually make a
difference in people’s lives right now like fixing the damn roads. Because it’s
about time we fixed the damn roads. Fix the damn roads. BINGHAM: Michigan’s known for its Motor City and it was home to the first stretch of concrete highway in the U.S. So how did
our roads hit a dead end? In short, chronic underfunding. KENNETH BOYER: I know
that people are going to jump at the idea but we are a low tax and low
spending state in terms of transportation. People typically drive
about a thousand miles in a month if you figure two cents a mile a thousand miles,
you’re paying roughly twenty dollars a month in fuel taxes, $10 a month of
registration fees. It’s cheap really when you compare it with your utility bill,
your electric bill it’s cheap. Michigan consistently ranks last among Great
Lakes states and per capita spending on roads and is far below the U.S. average. We
are 50th out of 50 states for amount of money spent building new roads and in
terms of road repair we’re again below average We’re wearing our roads out much
faster than we’re rebuilding the roads. BINGHAM: Michigan’s road funding plan is based on a law known as Public Act 51. 51 as in 1951, the year it was originally written. FILM: This is the American dream of freedom on wheels. Things have changed a bit since then. BOYER: In 1951, Michigan did not have any
expressways at all. People drove much less than they do now. Travel tended to be —
FILM: Country roads small city streets — and so it made sense
at that time to heavily fund counties and the localities and not to spend quite as
much on through roads and so as a result the cities and suburban areas have all
been starved for road funds. FILM: We’re running out of roads. And gas tax increases slowed in the 1980s and 90s. To top it off today’s fuel-efficient vehicles require
fewer stops to the gas station meaning less money to go around. But another problem is where that money’s going. What you pay at the pump isn’t all pouring
into the roads. Say you paid $2.99 a gallon for gas. At least 60 cents of
that goes to taxes. The federal government collects 18.4 cents, the state collects 26.3 cents then there’s a nominal of environmental fee and a six percent sales tax. That 26.3 cent state gas tax along with vehicle registration fees goes into a fund that
primarily supports the roads but also sends some money to public transit
bridges and rails and most of the sales tax goes to schools. Underfunding is at
the heart of the issue but the weather and heavy trucks also take a toll on our
roads. Michigan trucks unlike those in every
other state can be much heavier than 80 thousand pounds. You can have trucks up
to 150 thousand pounds so uniquely Michigan has very heavy
trucks on the highways. Lawmakers approved a deal in 2015 to pump an extra 1.2 billion a year into infrastructure by 2021 by raising taxes, fees and reprioritizing dollars and the state’s general fund. But
experts say we’re still behind in road funding to the tune of more than 2
billion dollars a year. Gretchen Whitmer’s persistence on the
roads issue helped her win the governor’s mansion in 2018. In her first
state budget she proposed a controversial 45 cent gas tax hike. Not a lot higher, I think the price of gas already is starting to inch up bad enough that it’s causing a crimp on people’s budgets. If it is allocated correctly and with some responsibility, yes. I think higher taxes are a good idea as long as the money is actually used to fix the roads. I don’t think higher taxes are the answer. I think there’s better ways. I
think we’ve given them enough money. They need to find out how to spend it wisely. Bottom line there’s a steep price to pay if we do nothing. BOYER: People don’t like to drive on them. They have to slow down. It means that places are farther apart in an
economic sense and so ultimately you know people move out of state. It’s
really a quality of life issue for most people. It’s not just an economic issue,
it’s about health and safety too. You know if it happened to me I don’t know how many other people have been hurt that we don’t know about. They were
cleaning it up and they were patching that day and we were told, “They can only
do what they can do,” “They’re behind,” “They only have so much money,” and “You get the roads you pay for,” we were told. That’s the fundamental problem that we don’t have enough money to build roads and to maintain roads. BINGHAM: There’s no simple solution to closing the funding gap for Michigan’s roads. Besides higher fuel taxes toll roads are also under consideration and as cars get
more fuel-efficient some economists suggest drivers should pay a tax based
on the number of miles they drive rather than the amount of gas they use.
One thing everyone agrees on? Something’s got to give before more roads do. Time will tell if Governor Whitmer’s promise to, “Fix the damn roads,” will hold true. To
learn more about the history of Michigan’s bad roads and the latest
solutions being considered visit


  1. Where are the Government officials of Michigan? Besides making billions of dollars that they enjoy and disregarding the citizens of Michigan.

  2. 13 billion dollars Michigan taxpayers pay for illegal aliens refugees who have four wives 25 children and they live in Farmington Michigan and they bringing $400,000 a year why the North American free trade kafta the slave trade Act created by King of an anchor of Michigan and let's not forget Jennifer granholm hardcore second-wave feminists the loss of American jobs a loss of Michigan jobs that's right

  3. What about convincing the automakers to ditch the damn low-profile tires as they're more vulnerable to pothole damage? That's a solution without any tax increase. High-profile tires also get better fuel economy, meaning better for the environment.

  4. Why a Democrat state has shitty roads? Isn’t it self explanatory people?
    Give us more money! So we can pay a dodgy union to build the roads.

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