Transportation panel OK’s Whitmer plan for $3.5B in road bonds

Susan J. Demas

Well, that was fast. The morning after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced her road bonding plan to help fix the roads, it was unanimously approved by the State Transportation Commission in a meeting Thursday morning.

Over the course of five years, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will now increase its budget by $3.5 billion thanks to the bonding proposal, raising total spending to $7.3 billion.

At a roundtable with reporters later Thursday morning, the Democratic governor noted that GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder appointed five of the six members on the commission. Two of the commissioners are Republicans, Chris J. Yatooma of Bloomfield Hills and Michael D. Hayes of Midland. The only Democrat, Stephen F. Adamini of Marquette, was appointed by Whitmer in December of 2019. The rest of the commissioners are independents.

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“So I think that shows that this really is a thoughtful way to go about managing this critical asset,” Whitmer said.

These funds would help to repair and completely rebuild some of Michigan’s most damaged and most traveled roads, MDOT Chief Administrative Officer Laura Mester said. However, the added funds will not permanently fix all the roads, and Whitmer stressed that a long-term solution is still needed to repair many local roads and bridges.

“I’m hopeful that before we get to five years that we have a new long term sustainable revenue source,” Mester said. “We still need a long-term solution to address some of the ongoing fixes that we have. This will not fix all of our roads and bridges, but it will fix a great number of them that are very important to our economy and the traveling public.”

The bonds will be paid back over the course of 25 years at interest rates around 2.5% to 3.5%, Mester said. Funds to pay back the bonds will come from the license vehicle registry. The state has no plans to increase those fees.

The state had slated 23 road repair projects, but the plan adds 26 new projects in the five year plan. Mester said 46 out of the 49 projects are complete reconstructs on major roads. Another vote in the committee unanimously approved 73 other road projects to receive additional funds.

The bond plan comes after Whitmer’s 2019 plan to raise gas prices by 45 cents per gallon to generate $2.5 billion annually for roads and bridges failed to garner support in the GOP-led Legislature. 

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She said in her State of the State address Wednesday night that she has tried to work with Republican legislators, but this plan that doesn’t require the approval of the Legislature ultimately became the best short-term solution.

Though commissioners each expressed support and excitement to jumpstart a positive trend in Michigan’s roads, Chair Todd Wyett used his last comments before the vote to ask Whitmer and GOP leaders to continue to take responsibility for roads as public resources and work with the legislature to continue to fund roads.

“So I as chair — and I’m sure I’m joined by others here — call on the governor and the Legislature to get together to come up with a long-term solution,” Wyett said. “The 10 million people living in this state deserve it.”

The Advance will have additional coverage Thursday. Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.