Widening Before Development

Certainly, it would be ideal to widen and pave roads BEFORE development occurs. Unfortunately, in reality, this is infrequently possible. The first factor that prevents this from happening is funding. There simply is not enough money available to road agencies to widen already-congested roads, let alone to widen not-yet congested roads or pave gravel roads. This problem is particularly acute in Oakland County, which has some of the most congested county roads in the state due to the explosive growth seen over the last 30 years.

In fact, the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) recently estimated that it would cost $1.6 billion to address the needs just on county roads over the next 10 years (that doesn't count the needs on state highways and city and village streets in the county). Unfortunately, RCOC's revenues are nowhere near this amount. Of that $1.6 billion in needs, nearly 80 percent are congestion-related, meaning the roads are overcrowded today, or are expected to become overcrowded over the next 10 years.

Congested Roads in Oakland County

Anyone who drives in Oakland County during rush hour, however, knows that many of the roads are already congested. RCOC, like the other road commissions in the state, is on a fixed income. It does not have taxing authority and, according to state law, relies upon state and federal gas tax revenues for the bulk of its funding. That means the Road Commission must maintain its 2,600 miles of roads and attempt to address wide-spread congestion with its share of gas tax revenues. Part of the problem, however, is that Michigan's gas tax, even after the 1997 four-cent increase, remains below the national average. Also, Michigan has been among the bottom nine states in per capita road funding for more than 30 years.

Clearly Michigan's road agencies are underfunded, and have been for years. It is impossible to catch up with road needs while remaining underfunded. Additionally, some of the already-congested roads are experiencing safety problems, and RCOC must address those locations first. Consequently, RCOC has to make some tough choices about where to spend its limited funding. In recent years, there has been a tremendous amount of interest expressed by motorists in Oakland County in fixing our pothole-riddled paved roads. As a result, RCOC has committed to fixing its existing paved roads before building any new roads (for the most part, you can't do both with the limited funds available). It's interesting to note that it costs between $60,000 and $350,000 per mile (depending upon the amount of reconstruction needed) to resurface a road, but $4 million a mile to widen a road from two lanes to five.

New Development

The other part of the answer to this question is that RCOC has no control over new development. Only cities, villages and townships can restrict new development, and the courts have made it very clear that they have only minimal authority to restrict development. Because development is occurring all over Oakland County at an astronomical pace, RCOC is always playing catch up with congestion while still attempting to maintain the existing roads. We cannot simply ignore the roads in already-developed parts of the county (which include many of the busiest county roads in the state) in order to address congestion caused by new development. One partial answer to this problem is to get developers to pay for the road improvements needed as a result of their developments. RCOC has had some success in convincing developers to voluntarily pay for such improvements. However, there is no legal means currently in place through which RCOC can force developers to do this. We have encouraged state legislators to enact laws that would allow us to do this, but they, as yet, have not done so.