In the 2018 election, fixing the roads was the top issue for Michigan voters. Certainly, the roads are in rough shape, though how rough depends on the type of road. Seventy-five percent of the state roads – roads with an I, U.S., or M-designation – are rated as being in “fair” or “good” condition. In contrast, 50 percent of county and local roads are rated in “poor” condition.
Once a road deteriorates to a poor condition, the road must be reconstructed at significant expense. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) estimates the cost of reconstructing one mile of one lane (e.g. a “lane-mile”) of a freeway to be $3.4 million. MDOT estimates the cost to reconstruct a lane-mile of a non-freeway state road to be $1.7 million, while the cost to reconstruct a lane-mile of county or city/village road to be $620,000.
Michigan has approximately 7,500 lane-miles of freeways. Thus, the cost of reconstructing all of these roads that are in poor condition is approximately $6.4 billion. Michigan has about 22,000 lane-miles of non-freeway state roads. The cost to reconstruct all of these roads that are in poor condition is about $10 billion. These costs do not include the cost of preventative maintenance for the remainder of these roads, so that they do not slip into poor condition. MDOT estimates that an additional $1.5 billion is needed per year in perpetuity for all state roads.
Michigan also has approximately 60,000 lane-miles of county and city/village roads. The cost of reconstructing the 50 percent of these roads that are in poor condition is approximately $17 billion. A consensus seems to be emerging that an additional $2.5 billion per year in funding is required for the roads. This would raise enough money to reconstruct the roads in poor condition statewide within about 15 years.
These estimates do not include neighborhood roads, such as a local subdivision road. Michigan has about 165,000 lane-miles of these roads and many are in poor condition. Even if the State is able to raise an additional $2.5 billion per year for the roads, it will not have the resources to reconstruct these roads.
The Great Recession of 2008-09 sharply contracted the road-building industry, with the industry only slowly regaining its capacity. With the unemployment rate being at or below 4.0 percent for a year, skilled workers are becoming hard to find. These factors have caused road reconstruction costs to increase by an average of 50 percent between 2013 and 2018.
Rehabilitating a road before it slips into poor condition can extend the life of the road by a decade at only 25 percent of the cost of reconstructing it. The State simply has not had the resources to rehabilitate its roads, hence they must now be reconstructed at considerable expense. If nothing is done about the roads, MDOT estimates that by 2024, two-thirds of state roads will be in poor condition, making reconstructing them an even more expensive proposition.