LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan interstates and highways need at least a $1.5 billion annual influx of additional spending to be brought into better condition, nearly double the current funding, the state's new transportation director told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Paul Ajegba, whom Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed, disclosed the figure in his advice-and-consent hearing before a legislative panel. The number does not include an estimate of additional funds for municipal roads and bridges, which the Department of Transportation is working to compile.
"The problem is we really have not invested enough money in our roads," Ajegba, a 28-year MDOT veteran, told the Senate Advice and Consent Committee two years after higher fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees took effect.
Those tax hikes were part of laws designed to gradually boost road spending by $1.2 billion annually by the 2020-21 fiscal year. Less than a year after enactment of the plan, however, an infrastructure commission created by then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder called for an additional $2.2 billion to bring interstates, highways, local roads and bridges into good or fair condition — $1.6 billion of which would go to interstates, highways and other major roads.
Sen. Tom Barrett, a Potterville Republican, said voting for the $1.2 billion plan in 2015 only to be told by the transportation agency and the road-building industry that much more is needed "wears away that trust" with legislators.
But Ajegba said the department at the time was clear that it needed $1.2 billion just for highways, when instead the new revenue is divvied up via a formula where 39 percent goes to the state and 61 percent to counties and cities. He was backed up by Democratic Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing.
"Every year we don't invest, the cost actually goes up," Hertel said.
Michigan's per-capita spending on roads ranks 46th-lowest among states and last in the Great Lakes region, Ajegba said.
Whitmer made fixing the roads a major focus of her campaign, proposing to increase "user fees" by an unspecified amount or ask voters to approve an infrastructure bond. She is expected to highlight the issue in next week's State of the State address and to unveil a detailed plan in her March budget presentation. Ajegba declined to elaborate on specifics, saying he did not want to get out in front of her pending proposal.
Ajegba's appointment is expected to stand. He fielded a number of questions from senators, including whether the department is complying with a 2016 law to raise speed limits on certain highways and if the state's limits on when trucks with oversized loads can be in operation are too restrictive. But the status of the roads was top of mind.
"Let's face it. The roads are terrible in the state. They're the worst in the country," said the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Peter Lucido of Macomb County's Shelby Township, crediting Ajegba for his candor and directness. Lucido said he looks forward to seeing what Whitmer proposes.
He plans to hold hearings on her other top appointees this week and in the future. Ajegba went first.