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Local US-131 projects are on hold

June 7, 2009 by WLKM 

Two related projects involving US-131 in St. Joseph County are among those negatively impacted by Michigan’s transportation funding difficulties.

                “Design and Construction of PA-5″ – otherwise known as the Constantine bypass ($19,949,534) – and the addition of truck climbing lanes from Drummond Road to Gleason Road ($2,620,466) are on the list of “New Road/Capacity Improvement Project Delays” announced by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).  Both had been assigned 2012 start dates in MDOT’s 2009-2013 five-year program.

                According to the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), MDOT has been forced to cancel more than 137 road and bridge projects – totaling $740 million – due to the state’s inability to match available federal dollars.

                MDOT’s recently released five-year plan lists the statewide projects that have been cancelled, including road preservation projects, bridge preservation projects, and new roads/capacity improvement projects.  MDOT Director Kirk Steudle presented the list of projects to the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday (June 2nd).

                Mike Nystrom, vice president of government and public relations for MITA and co-chair of the Michigan Transportation Team (MTT), said, “We are in a state of crisis when it comes to our transportation funding, and it is being felt in every community across the state.  These projects are vital to Michigan’s economic future.  When roads are maintained, they attract new business.  Economic and job growth will not happen in Michigan when MDOT is forced to cancel critical infrastructure projects.”

                Nystrom said, “This should be yet another wake-up call to our legislators that the time is now to Fix Michigan Roads.  If we fail to address this issue now, Michigan’s road and bridge funding will plummet dramatically in 2011, causing the state to return almost $600 million a year to Washington because of our inability to match federal aid.”

                The Michigan Legislature is currently exploring a package of bills that would increase road funding over the next five years in Michigan.  The plan is expected to yield an additional $1.8 billion in new transportation revenue per year.

                Nystrom said, “We all need to tell our legislators: ‘No more excuses – Fix Michigan Roads now.”

                During a Thursday evening (June 4th) interview, state Rep. Matt Lori (R-Constantine) was asked about the delay in the St. Joseph County projects and said, “It’s disappointing.  I think a bypass is essential for the economic growth in Southwest Michigan and, certainly, in St. Joseph County.  To have the project pushed back further is, like I say, disappointing and it’s going to hold up progress for the region.”

                Lori said, “I’m certainly going to do whatever I can to try and make sure the bypass gets put back on the top of the priority list as quickly as possible.”

                Lori indicated he was surprised by the announcement.  He said, “I know the budget situation.  We’re dealing with it every single day in Lansing, but I thought these projects were far enough out that they wouldn’t be bothered by the immediate budget problems, but I guess I was wrong.”

                Lori noted the package of bills to deal with the funding situation and said, “As a matter of fact, I’ve introduced one of those bills that has to do with entire county planning from county to county for transportation corridors.  The problem we’re having at the present time is trying to find the funding mechanism for increased highway spending.”

                Lori said, “We know that the taxpayers aren’t ready for any increases whatsoever so we’re trying to look at a lot of different things, but, as of this evening, really don’t have an answer on how we’re going to do that.”

                Regarding the push to Fix Michigan Roads, Lori said, “I hope we can do something.  The people I talk with in the district, most don’t seem to mind a small – very small – increase in the gas tax, if it can be guaranteed that the revenue would not be taken for something else other than roads, and that a portion of that would come back to the counties.”  And he said, “People have different ideas on how much needs to be raised and how quickly and, again, that kind of compounds the problem.”

                When asked about the impact of the announcement on the future of the St. Joseph County projects, Lori said, “From what I read on the news release, it’s a delay.  A couple of people have asked me this afternoon, ‘How long is the delay?’  I really don’t have a good answer for that either.  Until we get the immediate budget situation squared away, I don’t think anyone has planned that far ahead.”

                Among the “Road Preservation Projects” removed from the five-year program is resurfacing of US-12 from M-60 to Edwardsburg ($9.6 million) in Cass County.

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