Time to combine county government with road commission

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is delivering his message on infrastructure and transportation next Wednesday.

Of course we want him to support multi-modal investments and complete streets.

We also want him to discuss Michigan’s interesting arrangement where county road commissions are in nearly all cases separate from county government.

We recently wrote the Governor and included the following thought:

Under Michigan’s unified form and general law county governments can manage parks, human services, health departments, airports, sewers, water supply, refuge collection, lake improvements, and libraries — but not roads. This means we have to have a separate county government just for roads, Having two governments with similar departments (e.g. law, planning, environmental) is redundant and wasteful. Requiring a county charter to eliminate this waste is not an easy solution.

Road Commissions were established in 1894 and based on Bay County’s Stone Road District of 1883. It’s time to move into the twenty-first century by changing state laws to allow the consolidation of county government and road commissions. ACT 51 should provide financial incentives to counties that consolidate in this manner.

Based on an earlier Detroit News article, he might be considering pushing for such consolidations.

Snyder is expected to call for efficiencies and reforms, including performance-measuring “dashboards” and simplified financial statements he has demanded from state and local governments. The governor also wants to encourage consolidation and is examining whether a regional approach to local roads makes sense, sources said.

What does that mean to cyclists? Consolidation can save transportation money while also bringing greater accountability to the public. If a county is not building complete streets, cyclists should be able to contact their elected county commissioners to demand change.

Regional approaches would be a benefit as well. It’s difficult advocating for bicycling facilities among the many dozens of road agencies across Metro Detroit. Having fewer would make that easier while producing more consistent results.

And regional approaches mean bike lanes would less likely end at a city’s borders.

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2 Responses to “Time to combine county government with road commission”

  1. Joel Batterman Says:

    Can you confirm that Michigan is the only state with road commissions of this kind?

    “Dashboards”…something of an auto-centric term, no? Just kidding, mostly.

    Performance measures are good, if we’re measuring the right stuff. If we keep talking about transport as “mobility” (movement as an end in itself), instead of “accessibility” (movement as a means to an end), we still won’t be getting anywhere.

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    @Joel: That’s a great question about road commissions that I’ve never found the answer to.

    I think the software world has stolen the word dashboard. My girlfriend, a former GM person is quick to tell me that cars don’t have dashboards anymore.

    I agree on the measures too. Unfortunately it’s easier to measure motor vehicle mobility (e.g. INRIX data) than non-motorized mobility. We need to stop pretending that the ACS census bike to work numbers are all that valuable. I would love for Michigan to have a travel survey with enough responses so that we can evaluate transit, biking and walking numbers by individual counties and large cities.

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