The Story of Preserving Michigan Pavements

The following timeline is the story of pavement preservation in Michigan. Anyone who has driven on Michigan’s roads agrees: our crumbling streets and highways don’t fit the picture of Pure Michigan. Motorists are paying more each year in car repairs; businesses have higher transportation costs and major companies have opted to locate in other states with better transportation systems.  How did our roads get this bad? Michigan is a national leader in pavement preservation and asset management. So why do we have some of the worst roads in the country?  This isn’t a Republican or Democrat failure. The problem of funding Michigan infrastructure has been building over several decades and missed opportunities span multiple administrations.  The question now isn’t, “who should we blame?”  The question we must ask ourselves is, “how do we fix the problem?”  Understanding how we got to where we are today answers key questions, like:
  • Why didn’t the 2015 road funding package provide enough revenue?
  • Why does it keep getting more expensive to fix the roads? 
  • Why did Gov. Whitmer propose such a high gas tax increase, in such a short time span?
The solution requires us to ask: What future do you want for Michigan roads?  A future where Michigan is known for pothole-riddled streets or for preventing them!
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) was more than just the vehicle for federal highway funding from FY 1992 to 1997.  ISTEA led to sweeping changes in the way roads are managed today. Flexibility, innovation, and collaboration became buzzwords for transportation planning.  ISTEA opened the door for states to use federal dollars to fund projects to maintain existing highways.  Richard Osborne, a transportation specialist in FHWA’s Office of Legislation and Strategic Planning, discussed this change in direction in a Federal Highway Administration 10-year look back at ISTEA. 
“We’re not talking about routine maintenance, such as snowplowing and grass-cutting,” he said. “We’re talking about preventive maintenance – those activities that can dramatically extend the life of a roadway.” That includes such activities such as topping a cracked road surface with a seal coat before it deteriorates further, lengthening the time until more extensive and expensive repairs are needed. “Before ISTEA, funding for maintenance was an anathema,” Osborne said.
Then MDOT Deputy Director Bob Welke was excited about the possibilities that ISTEA presented and asked MDOT staff to develop a preventive maintenance program.  MDOT staff worked to develop specifications for preventive maintenance treatments, guidelines for their use, and a process to call for and approve projects. MDOT’s capital preventive maintenance (CPM) program started with $6 million in funding and was a national model of innovation. It was the first CPM program in the nation with annual dedicated funding.  Throughout the 1990s, MDOT blazed the trail with the creation of its own CPM programs for roads and bridges and impacted the national conversation on road preservation. 
By the late 1990s, MDOT grew its CPM program to over $55 million annually.  When the Michigan Legislature discussed the 1997 transportation funding package, MDOT was able to show that increasing funding for preventive maintenance improved pavement and bridge conditions and improved the overall budget. In 1997, a landmark report was presented to Congress titled, “Status of the Nation’s Surface Transportation System: Condition and Performance .”  The report found pavement conditions on the national highway system were deteriorating. Approximately 48.7% of rural and 60% of urban interstate miles were in fair to poor condition.    link works. Italics title. This report led to a national discussion on the importance of pavement preservation. States began to realize they needed better data on road conditions. Collecting this data was a crucial part of the planning process. 
In 2002, Public Act 499 of 2002 was signed into law which created the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council (TAMC).  This enabling legislation marked the beginning of Michigan’s process for collecting data on the federal-aid eligible road network. Data was to be collected, stored and reported on both the state and local federal-aid networks. TAMC was also charged with creating training. With the passage of this legislation, the Michigan Legislature took an important stand in support of preserving Michigan’s road and bridge network.  “All public roads in Michigan will be managed using the principles of asset management.”: Public Act 499 of 2002 (HB 5396)
In January, Gov. Granholm announced that a variety of capacity improvements approved as part of the “Build Michigan III” program would be deferred until MDOT could meet and sustain the stated goal of having 95% of freeways and 85% of non-freeway trunklines in good condition by 2007.   Gov. Granholm announced the Preserve First” program.  According to a memo prepared by William E. Hamilton for the House Fiscal Agency,
“The Preserve First program also involved advancing a number of preservation projects from 2004 to the 2003 construction season, and the development of $350.0 million to $400.0 million in new preservation projects over a three-year period, 2004 to 2007.  These projects would include capital preventive maintenance projects, highway reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, and bridge projects. Funds needed to develop these projects would come from the deferral of capacity improvement projects as well as from bonding.”
Gov. Granholm approved the delayed capacity projects to move forward in July 2003.
According to an MDOT Media Release, on Oct. 28, 2004, the Preserve First program was starting to make a difference in Michigan. Link to Scan PDF of MDOT Media Release, October 28, 2004
“MDOT expects to have 91 percent of state freeways and 84 percent of non-freeways in good condition by 2007 and today is four years ahead of schedule of having 85 percent of non-freeway bridges in good condition by 2008. MDOT expects to have 87 percent of freeway bridges in good condition by 2008. State Transportation Director Gloria J. Jeff said that the Preserve First strategy of redirecting less than 10 percent of MDOT’s highway construction investment to added preservation projects, along with MDOT’s strategy of applying a combination of long, medium and short-term fixes, has given MDOT the ability to strategically address system needs in the most cost-effective manner possible.” … “Our FY 2005 program will continue to focus on preserving Michigan’s existing transportation system,” said Jeff. “At the same time, we recognize the need to balance preservation with economic development concerns, congestion issues, and our responsibility to deliver mobility and access with a comprehensive transportation system that includes public transit, passenger rail, air transport and freight logistics.”
Unfortunately, over the decade to follow, a sustained level of funding was not made available to keep these roads in good condition. 
As transportation advocates clamored for a sustained increase in funding to improve roads and bridges, Public Act 221 of 2007 was signed into law creating the Transportation Funding Task Force (TF2).  A Citizen’s Advisory Council was created and a serious of statewide meetings were held to seek input from the public. An extensive study of transportation needs was conducted.
The Highway Road and Bridge Subcommittee of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) issued a report in July of 2008. To paint a clear picture of the future of Michigan’s road and bridge system, the CAC considered four funding scenarios; Good, Better, Best and Current (do nothing). 
  • “Current/do nothing”: Michigan will invest an estimated $3.2 billion per year on its road and bridge system (as indicated below, in 2010, this number will drop significantly, because federal funds will be lost).
  • “Good”: To improve the road and bridge system (including MDOT, county, and local systems) would require an estimated annual investment of $6.1 billion. 
  • “Better”: To bring the entire system to a “better” condition, which is essentially the best possible condition that system managers across the state can realistically envision, would require an estimated annual investment of $12.6 billion. 
  • “Best”: It was concluded that attaining the best possible condition for the system represents a grand vision that was not immediately quantifiable.
Recognizing that the Better and Best scenarios would be a bigger funding commitment than the state could afford during the recession, the Transportation Funding Task Force (TF2) recommended increasing funding at the “Good” level outlined by the Citizen’s Advisory Council.  Despite warnings that pavement conditions would deteriorate to a point where Michigan would not be able to afford roads in “good” road condition, the Michigan Legislature failed to act on the recommendations of the Transportation Funding Task Force. 
MDOT delivered a presentation to the Michigan Legislature entitled Transportation Funding Crisis. The message delivered was clear. At current funding levels, the condition of Michigan’s transportation infrastructure would decline.  The gains made by investing in preventive maintenance would be gone, and Michigan would be left with roads in need of very costly repairs or reconstruction.  On May 14, 2009, legislation was introduced to implement TF2 recommendations. No action was taken. 

The Michigan House Republican’s studied road funding needs and reaffirmed the findings of the TF2, concluding $1.4 billion in additional annual funding was needed to maintain an overall “fair” system of roads.  In 2008, The non-partisan citizens’ group, TF2 concluded that an additional $3 billion per year was needed to achieve a long-term “good” standard for state roads.  In October 2011, Gov. Snyder called for a $1.4 billion additional annual investment in roads and laid out a potential funding option to achieve that goal.  In the 2011 Press Conference at Lawrence Technological University, Gov. Snyder urged the public  to ask their representatives to take a “tough vote.” Gov. Snyder warned, “Every day that passes it’s only going to get worse.”
During the 2013 State of the State Address, Gov. Snyder called on the Legislature to secure an additional $1.2 billion in revenue for transportation. When details were released during the FY 2014 budget process, Gov. Snyder asked for $1.2 billion a year in new revenue, plus a “local option” allowing Michigan counties a chance to raise additional revenue for roads they maintain. Subject to voter approval, this could generate $280 million for local roads.  Then Transportation Director, Kirk Steudle told Jonathan Oosting for an MLive news report, “There is a definite need to make sure the state trunkline system, which is the economic backbone of the state, remains in good condition.” he said. “In the end, it’s about paying now versus paying later.”   The article continued, “It’s cheaper to maintain adequate roads than it is to replace roads in poor condition, and the Snyder administration says the state could avoid a $25 billion repair bill by investing $12 billion over the course of the next ten years.” ______ MDOT released a study in April 2013 entitled, Cost-Effectiveness of the MDOT Preventive Maintenance Program Final Report. The report was a comprehensive review of MDOT’s program and investments in CPM dating back to 1992.  MDOT’s CPM program has proven effective and continues to be a national model. 
“Where the program started with approximately $6 million in funding the first year, by the end of the 1990s funding had grown to over $55 million and in recent years has fluctuated in a range from approximately $80 million to $100 million annually. This level of activity makes Michigan’s CPM program one of the largest, and possibly most successful, in the United States.”
The study proved the effectiveness of the MDOT CPM program.
  • “The primary intent of the CPM program is to postpone rehabilitation and reconstruction activities by extending the service life of the original pavement.
  • “The results show that MDOT’s CPM program has generated an average savings of almost $310,000 per lane-mile for flexible pavements, and around $265,000 per lane-mile for composite pavements when compared to a rehabilitation-only strategy while providing service life extension of around 16 years.”
  • “The findings support the contention that MDOT’s practice of maintaining existing good roads in good condition is both economically and environmentally sustainable.”
Former State Rep. Rick Olson issued a 2014 update of a report he first championed as a member of the House Republican Caucus in 2011, Michigan’s Road Crisis The Olsen reports looked at the cost to repair pavements given the mix of preventive maintenance and rehabilitation fixes based on current road condition ratings. The cost assumptions were based on these “lowest cost” repairs. The following are excerpts from the report. In the September 2011 original report, we said: “The model projected that almost $1.4 billion dollars more revenue per year would be needed in 2012-2015 and rising to almost $2.6 billion per year by 2023 to achieve the goals set. . . The conclusion reached was that if the investments projected by these models are not done, either the deferred costs of maintaining our roads will be much higher OR we choose to accept lower quality roads. From a business perspective, the set of investments recommended is the lowest long-term costs of maintaining our roads.” In 2012, the model was updated to reflect the road condition data collected in 2011 and 2012, and the additional revenue needed climbed to $1.542 billion and rising through the years.” In 2013, the model was again updated and the number climbed to $1.754 billion and rising through the years.” “It is important to have a 2014 update with the current discussions about road funding in the Michigan legislature. … The bad news is that the total in the first year has risen again – to $2.183 billion in additional funding needed.” The advice to his former legislative colleagues as they considered the 2015 road funding proposal.  “The “takeaway” from this finding could well be that if political capital is to be expended, it would be advisable to actually fix the problem, rather than angering some taxpayers by raising taxes and still having them mad because the roads were not getting better, but merely maintained in a poor condition.”
Gov. Snyder signed Public Acts 174-180, a package of bills to implement a long-awaited increase in road funding.  When fully implemented in 2021, the plan will provide an additional $1.2 billion in annual road funding.  A Crain’s Detroit report aptly recognized, “when Michigan’s tax and fee increases take effect in January 2017, they will be the state’s first fuel tax hike in 20 years and the first major vehicle fee hike since 1983, when it switched from basing registration taxes on vehicle weight to list price.”   
As the Michigan Legislature explored innovations for longer-lasting pavements intended to last 30 to 50 years, it became clear to some lawmakers that the package of bills just signed into law was both too little and too late to prevent road conditions from getting worse. 

While pilot projects were approved for both 30-year and 50-year pavements, the study brought the conversation within the Legislature back to declining pavement conditions.  

The following graphic provided by MDOT shows that even with full enactment of the 2015 road funding package, state-owned highway conditions will continue to deteriorate. 


In March 2016, Gov. Snyder signed an Executive Order creating the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission. 

In December 2016, a comprehensive 21st Century Infrastructure Commission Report was released. 

The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission studied the comprehensive infrastructure needs of the state, not just transportation. Building on the successes of the TAMC, asset management was a significant focus of the commission.

Asset management is not a new concept for Michigan; we have been recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as a national leader in statewide transportation asset management data collection and planning, through the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council (TAMC), but additional work is needed to make the state a leader in systematic, holistic infrastructure asset management and planning (U.S. DOT FHA 2014).

A comprehensive review of transportation system needs always comes back to preservation!  Keeping good roads good is the most cost-effective option. But, as the Commission found, it’s not the only benefit. Economic impact and traffic safety were also important outcomes. 
“Investment in transportation infrastructure provides a significant economic impact. On average, every $1.00 invested in the transportation sector infrastructure has an estimated economic impact of $4.24. The sizeable economic benefits associated with infrastructure investment are not the only reason to invest. There is also a case to be made for making infrastructure improvements sooner rather than later because deferring infrastructure investment will actually make a project more expensive as the costs of infrastructure repair and or replacement increases as quality declines. As shown in Exhibit 12, spending $1 on pavement preservation when a road is in fair condition eliminates or delays spending $6 to $14 on reconstruction when it is in very poor condition.
Value for money is important, but providing safe transportation systems is critical.” The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission suggested a goal of 95% good or fair for Interstates and principal arteries, 85% good or fair for other state highways; and 85% good or fair for county primary and major city roads.  The Commission estimated that reaching these goals would require an increased level of investment of $2.2 billion annually to meet these pavement conditions and make critical bridge repairs. 
  • $1 billion of state funds annually for Interstate and U.S. freeways and bridges;
  • $600 million of state funds annually for other state highways and bridges; and 
  • $600 million of state funds annually for other highly used roads and bridges under local jurisdiction. 
The commission made the following recommendation:
In 2007, Michigan achieved established goals for the condition of state highways and bridges (90% good/fair) through asset management planning; however, the state has not been able to sustain that high level of performance. Through the roads package passed by the Michigan Legislature in 2015, beginning in 2017, an expected $450 million in new revenue from state gas taxes and vehicle registration fees will be distributed to more than 700 transportation agencies. That number rises to $600 million in 2018, and the full distribution of the entire $1.2 billion revenue package will occur in 2021. But even with these investments, an estimated $2.2 billion annual gap will remain. Closing this gap is essential to reach the state’s goals for road condition—95% good or fair condition for Interstates and principal arterials; 85% good or fair condition for state highways and bridges; and, 85% good or fair condition for local roads and bridges— and to ensure Michigan is building and maintaining 21st century transportation infrastructure.


Public Act 323 of 2018 was signed into law creating the MI Infrastructure Council to implement the recommendations of the 21st Century Infrastructure Council. Jessica Moy became the first executive director of the Council in October 2018. Her role is to guide the 27-member commission in their efforts to develop a 30-year infrastructure strategy.

Public Act 323 of 2018 MI Infrastructure Council  30-year infrastructure strategy –  ______ Each year, the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council.   The 2018 report shows that while improvements are being made to the system, funding is not sufficient to keep good roads good, improve conditions and stop roads from falling to fair and poor condition.   As of 2018, over 36,000 lane miles are in poor condition or 41% of all paved federal-aid roads.  Twelve years ago, only 25% were in poor condition.  Given the current rate of road deterioration and anticipated funding levels for road preservation and repair, the percentage of roads in poor condition will remain above 40% for the foreseeable future. They say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and this holds true for the TAMC Annual Reports. “Every year, analysts examine the pavement data to determine the extent to which roads are improved or deteriorate over time. Figure 4, known as the “Pavement Cycle of Life,” shows the results of this analysis.  For well over a decade, more roads have deteriorated than have been improved. This has happened every year since 2005, and 2018 was not an exception.  This trend must be reversed if Michigan’s roads are to improve.”  

 As part of the FY 2020 budget process, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outlined the Fixing Michigan Roads Plan. 

Citing various studies that put the additional annual need for Michigan roads between $2.2 and $2.7 billion, Gov. Whitmer laid out a plan to incrementally increase the gas tax by 45 cents per gallon.  This plan would generate $2.1 billion in additional revenue for a new Fixing Michigan Roads Fund which would distribute money based on national functional classification. This would ensure new revenue goes where the majority of vehicles travel. $1.5 billion of the $2.1 billion would go to MDOT.  State roads are currently at only 78% good or fair condition and are forecast to get much worse. Within the next five years, MDOT roads in poor condition will double from 22 to 44%!  In a Michigan Public Radio interview, Gov. Whitmer said,  “The fact of the matter is, it’s a $2.5 billion problem today. We are at 78% of our roads in ‘good to fair’ condition. In just three years, that number is going to be closer to 50/50, and the price tag is going to be closer to $3.5 billion,” Whitmer said. MDOT has a sound asset management plan in place and a preventive maintenance program that continues to be a national model. Unfortunately, without the funding necessary to maintain and improve roads, the cost to bring the state’s pavements back to a combined good or fair condition increases each year.  Gov. Whitmer’s plan provides a sustainable long‐term solution to improve state road conditions to 90% good or fair in 10 years.  _____ Additional reports indicate the need is significant, and at least as high, if not higher than the dollar amount proposed in the FY 2020 Executive Budget proposal.  In January 2019 the Michigan Consensus Project, led by former Republican Senator Ken Sikkema and Democratic Senator Bob Emerson, called for a 47-cent gas tax increase to be implemented over a period of years. The proposal would generate $2.7 billion in new revenue when fully implemented in 2028, meeting the recommendations of the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission.  The Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan report, Evaluation of Michigan’s Options to Increase Road Funding made the following determinations. 
  • “Michigan’s roads are in relatively bad shape and without an infusion of new resources, they are destined to deteriorate further. In 2018, only 77% of state-operated roads were graded in “good” or “fair” condition. By 2025, that number is expected to drop below 50%.”
  • “In the interim, road funding needs have grown. The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission estimated that road infrastructure needs $2.2 billion annual funding beyond the 2015 package to bring most roads up to at least fair condition. 
  • The Senate Fiscal Agency recently released a report that says even that might be an underestimate, as the state has continued to underinvest in roads since that report.”
  The Senate Fiscal Agency report makes several key points in their analysis of road funding needs. 
  • “Michigan’s roads now require an additional $2 billion dollars annually to fix because there are 20% more roads in poor condition today than there were in 2015. 
  • MDOT Pavement forecasts contained in the report indicate, “without additional funding the percentage of trunkline and local roads in poor condition will nearly double within 10 years, and could possibly include two-thirds of the State’s entire roadway system by 2028.”
The report also explores the benefits of Capital Preventive Maintenance to preserve the road network.  When applied at the right time, while a road is still in reasonably good condition, CPM can extend the life of that road by five years (in some cases longer). … All roadways eventually will require reconstruction, but the timely application of CPM or rehabilitation can delay the reconstruction and its associated costs.”  The following graph shows the benefits of utilizing CPM and rehabilitation rather than the traditional worst first maintenance, and the increase in costs from 2013 to 2018 due to the deterioration of state trunkline road conditions.  ______ In June 2019, MDOT released its Transportation Asset Management Plan (TAMP).  The TAMP contains a description of the asset management process used in Michigan over the past two decades. New federal requirements of MAP-21 and the FAST Act, the 2012 and 2015 federal highway funding bills, require states to document their pavement preservation programs. There are new federal performance measures as well.   Link to PDF of TAMP Michigan has a model plan and pavement management system in place. Unfortunately, without a significant increase in funding the routes most important to commerce – the National Highway System – roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate. 
  • “To meet the SOGR for NHS bridges, an average additional investment of $32 million per year would be needed through 2028. This investment improves the condition of NHS bridges to 95% good or fair based on deck area. 
  • To meet the SOGR for NHS pavement, an average additional investment of $1 billion per year would be needed through 2028. This is comprised of an additional $179 million per year for the Interstate system and an additional $821 million per year for the Non-Interstate NHS. This investment improves the condition of the Interstate routes to 95% good or fair, based on RSL, and improves the Non-Interstate NHS pavement conditions to 85% good/fair, based on RSL and PASER. 
  • Under the constrained investment strategy, however, the condition of Interstate pavement would fall to just 60% good or fair and Non-Interstate NHS condition would fall below 50% good or fair, based on their respective condition measures.”

In Conclusion

In a February 12, 2019 interview with Gongwer News Service, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, 
“Solving this crisis will not be easy. This is a challenge 30 years in the making, the result of underinvestment across multiple administrations. We need to act now before a catastrophe happens, and the situation becomes truly unrecoverable.”
No matter what your politics are, we should all be able to agree on one thing. Michigan roads should never be allowed to become so damaged it’s impossible to bring the system back into good condition. As a state, we need to ask the question that was asked of the Michigan Legislature by the Transportation Funding Task Force in 2008. What kind of future do you want for Michigan?  MDOT has asset management, pavement and bridge preservation plans in place that are regarded as a national model. The TAMC is working with local agencies to ensure all Act 51 agencies are implementing asset management plans. It’s just the funding piece of the puzzle that is missing! Without $2.5 billion in new annual funding, Michigan’s road agencies will not be able to reverse the trends and pavement and bridge conditions will continue to decline. MDOT’s documented need is at least $1.5 billion. This does not include additional needs of local road agencies and a multi-modal transportation system. This timeline does not look at bridges, but improvements to both MDOT and local agency bridges are critical. Without intervention, the deterioration of bridge conditions could soon leave Michigan in a position where we are required by the federal government to allocate federal aid to improve bridges instead of implementing the planned 5-year State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). This would restrict federal aid use by MDOT and local agencies, delaying planned improvements. Just 15 years ago, Michigan was on the cusp of 95% good condition on freeways and 85% good on non-freeway state highways. Today, it will take at least $2.5 billion annually over 10 years to reach a combined good and fair condition on those same roads!  The cost to bring the most important roads to our economy back to the “good” condition they were in a decade ago is likely out of reach. Further deterioration will make an overall “fair” condition more difficult to obtain with each passing year. We cannot continue to delay difficult decisions!

Michigan should not be known for potholes. 

We should be known for preventing them!