Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > Historic Federal Funds Only Part of Roads Solution Needed

Historic Federal Funds Only Part of Roads Solution Needed

April 12, 2022
 width=Amid the talk about the recently enacted federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), it’s critical to understand one thing that can be lost in the headlines – the new funding will not “fix” Michigan’s roads. It’s something that was also lost after the modest gas tax increase approved in 2015. 


Michigan’s deteriorating roads and bridges are the result of decades of chronic underfunding the IIJA cannot undo. The most recent statewide assessment estimated $2.2 billion of unmet annual funding needs as of 2016. While state and many local governments have enacted minor funding increases since that estimate, roads and bridges continue to deteriorate.  

Before the IIJA, Michigan received $1.1 billion annually in federal road and bridge funding. From the $4.3 billion IIJA sets aside for Michigan infrastructure (including broadband, water systems, and electric vehicle charging) over the next five years, only $2.2 billion is specifically for roads and bridges, which is a 35% increase over allocations. 


This increase in revenue alone does little to meet the state’s full needs. On an annual basis, the IIJA provides $334 million in new funding for state roads and $94 million for eligible local government roads. The $428 million in new funding for five years only helps to address a small portion of the annual funding gap. It will lessen the pace of decline in road conditions. It will not reverse the downward trend.  

We should also not expect this funding to address the needs of the entire road system. An effective road system provides both longrange mobility and local access to homes and businesses. With some exceptions, federal highway dollars fund roads that provide mobility, such as interstates and other major roads. 

Only about 30% of Michigan’s road miles qualify for federal funding, but potholes, dangerous bridges, and poor road conditions are found on roads of all characteristics. Granted, these 30% are the most heavily traveled roads, but that does little good if you can’t get to them.  

Michigan counties, cities, and villages are responsible for the balance of the road miles that provide local access. Responsibility for funding these roads falls to the state and local governments. 


Ultimately, you and I bear the primary responsibility for funding Michigan’s roads. Our antiquated current highway funding tax structure must be replaced, especially as our motor fleet is evolving to electric vehicles that do not consume gas. Other states and nations are experimenting with fee structures based on vehicle miles traveled.  

Ultimately, state and local governments would be best served by weaning themselves off of total reliance on the earmarking model. End the notion that road users should be solely responsible for funding the roads. As public goods, an argument can be made that funding road and bridge infrastructure should come from the general funds. This is the most sustainable approach and reflects the value of the infrastructure for more than the vehicles on it.  

Eric Lupher is the president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to improve state and local government in Michigan.