Posts Tagged ‘county road commissions’

Combining County boards and road commissions

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Governor Rick Snyder said back in October that he’d like to reduce the size of government by allowing counties to manage roads. He called road commissions “unneeded.”

We agree. As we’ve mentioned before, by default counties cannot manage roads. That must be handled by a separate county government called a road commission. It’s archaic and not cost effective.

House Bills 5125 and 5126 will make it possible to consolidate these separate county governments. While both the House and Senate have passed variations of the bill, the House must approve of the Senate’s legislative changes.

According to a Detroit News article:

The Michigan House has approved measures that would allow county boards of commissioners to take over the powers and duties of county road commissions.

Appointed county road commissions could be dissolved by a majority vote of a county’s board of commissioners. Voters would have the final decision on whether to dissolve road commissions in counties where road commissioners are elected.

Ingham County is looking to absorb their road commission. Macomb and Wayne Counties went through the onerous county charter process which let them absorb their road commissions earlier.

What about Oakland County?

The Spinal Column has thorough coverage on this topic.

“(Oakland County Executive L.) Brooks (Patterson) has no desire to take us over, and if anyone studies the issue, they wouldn’t want to,” [RCOC Spokesperson Craig] Bryson said. We don’t think there would be an immediate response, but there could be in the future.”

One conclusion from reading the article is that some government officials are against it and willing to make rather outlandish claims as to why.

Bryson claims it “By moving the jurisdiction to the counties, it forces counties to raise property taxes to fund roads.” Not true. Roads are paid for through a separate funding stream. If this were the case, why would tax-averse Macomb County absorb their road commission?

County Commissioner Jim Runestad said,”In Oakland County, if (the county board) were to take over the RCOC, it would be highly politicized and the politics would weigh in on every decision.” Every decision? Is that what happens now at the local, state, and federal levels, all of which manage roads without a separate governmental body? Of course not.

The current system of electing Oakland County road commissioners is highly political. The Republican majority chooses a road commissioner every couple years and controls the process. It’s a separate county government that’s fully controlled by the Republican majority, and that is the likely reason why the Road Commission for Oakland County will continue in the near future.

Commissioner Runestead told the Spinal Column, “If there was a change in leadership on the county board, the RCOC’s days could be numbered.”

Time to combine county government with road commission

Friday, October 21st, 2011

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.

Bicyclists don’t pay their share of road taxes

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Some have vehemently claimed that bicyclists don’t pay road taxes and therefore shouldn’t benefit from good roads. Oh, and cyclists are arrogant.

Sounds like 2011? Try 1893.

The Michigan Legislature was about to pass the County Road Law which, upon a vote of the people, would amend the State Constitution to allow counties to levy taxes and construct roads. Some anti-tax farmers from Genesee, Michigan would have no part of that. [Ed. emphasis ours]

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan:

We, the undersigned, farmers of the county of Genesee, Michigan, learning that there is a bill now before your honorable body the object of which is to repeal our present system of highway laws and enact in its stead laws making all highway taxes payable in cash, thereby depriving us of the privilege of paying a portion of our taxes in labor, and looking to large and expensive improvements on the highways of this State, would most respectfully and earnestly remonstrate against the passage of such an act. We as a class feel that our present system is sufficient for all practical purposes, and being a class of citizens upon whom the taxes of our State fall most heavily, do most earnestly protest against the passage of this or any other law that will tend to increase the taxes of the hard worked and already tax-burdened farmer, for the benefit, as it appears to us, of a comparative few non-taxpaying, arrogant wheelmen. And your petitioners will ever pray.

Linden March 2, 1893

The farmers didn’t win the argument. County Road Law of 1893 passed and the people amended the Michigan Constitution in 1894. This law was passed with leadership from the Good Roads movement, including Detroit bicyclist Edward N. Hines.

And as for today’s cyclists, yes, they do pay their share of taxes for roads. A recent Pew Charitable Trust study found that fuel taxes and vehicle license fees paid for 51% of road costs. The remaining 49% comes from other sources such a general funds and millages, which cyclists pay. That doesn’t include the external costs of motor vehicles which is borne by the general population.

Arrogant cyclists? Some. Freeloaders? Not at all.

Further Reading: The History of Roads in Michigan

Macomb County biking: a mixed bag

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

With only 11 total miles of bike lanes, Oakland County is not even competitive in terms of bike friendliness — except when they’re competing against Macomb County.

Macomb has zero miles of bike lanes.

Harrison Township Supervisor Anthony Forlini tried getting bike lanes but was rebuffed by the Macomb County Road Commission.

Excepted from an archived Macomb Daily editorial, August 18, 2009:

Robert Hoepfner, chief highway engineer for the road commission, has no complaint with bicyclists. But he is concerned about safety. Many county roads simply aren’t wide enough for the kind of designated lanes Forlini described, Hoepfner said.

If county residents want designated areas for bicyclists, “Then let’s build bike paths and make them safe,” he said.

As we noted back in August of 2008 , Hoepfner showed his lack of knowledge on AASHTO design guidelines for bicycle facilities and best practices.

And he apparently hasn’t learned much since then. Just last month he proposed adding a side path to a road widening project. If the road was being widened, why isn’t it being made wide enough for bike lanes? What’s the excuse now?

Bye, Bye Road Commission

Last Tuesday was the last meeting of the Macomb County Road Commission. After creating a county charter, a vote of the people and the amendment of state law, Macomb County was able to combine the county road commission and county government, saving the taxpayers money as well. (Governor Snyder, It shouldn’t be that difficult to combine county government with county road commissions in order to save money.)

Like Wayne County, Macomb County now has a road division as part of county government. It’s accountable to the public, too. They report to the county executive.

Even still, Hoepfner is was named the head of the county road division.

Utica mayor mentions Complete Streets

While Complete Streets policies and ordinances are popping up all over Michigan, there are none in Macomb County.

That might change according to this article in the Advisor & Source Newspapers:

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan has asked City Attorney William McGrail to look into developing an ordinance based on the “Complete Streets” program, which has already taken root in several Michigan communities.

“This is an important issue and we should take a position on it,” Noonan told the Utica City Council on Dec. 14. “We should set ourselves up to do what seems to be the wave of the future – transportation for the human beings involved.”

“Complete Streets highlights that any improvement should speak to the issue of not just vehicular traffic but pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well,” Noonan said. “It also pays attention to transit development, such as the railroad that runs through this city. All of these issues are brought into play in the movement called Complete Streets.”

Could Utica lead the way to bike friendliness in Utica?

First bike lanes in Macomb?

Despite the positive words from Utica, its more likely that the first bike lanes in Macomb County just south of Selfridge. They would be part of the Lake St. Clair Shoreline Trail project. This project includes a bike lanes along portions of S. River Road, Bridgeview, and N. River Road. The bike lanes connect Jefferson Avenue with the planned shared-use path along the east border of the Selfridge golf course and along the shoreline.

The county’s Request for Quotes (PDF) from last September does provide some additional details on the project.

It remains to be seen what happens in Macomb County, but at least there are some signs of progress.

Snyder Team responds to comments on bike bridge

Monday, November 1st, 2010

We submitted comments on gubernatorial candidate Rick Synder’s web site regarding his comments on the US23 pedestrian bridge.

We noted that the true inefficiencies in Michigan transportation lie in the structure. There are 50-some communities in Oakland County alone that receive road funding. There is significant room for consolidation.

We also noted that there are 81 county road commissions which are separate from county government, many if not all of which are not beholden to the public.

This is the response we received:

Thank you for your inquiry.  I would like to clarify that Rick does not oppose bike trails.  He is a big supporter of bikeable and walkable cities.  What Rick said during the debate is that we need to prioritize funds better.  Despite the fact that he is supportive of building new bike bridges, he thinks that it is a higher priority to reinforce dangerously crumbling bridges that thousands of people drive over every day.

The point you make about non accountable agencies is an interesting one.  I am not intimately familiar with how Rick’s ideas for transportation reform but I can tell you that he is committed to bringing greater efficiency and common sense to MDOT and transportation in Michigan as a whole.

Please continue to follow Rick’s campaign and let us know if we can be of any assistance to you.


The Reinvent Michigan Team

There’s a clear need to educate candidates such as Rick Snyder and others on the efficiency benefits of consolidation within Michigan’s transportation funding environment.

One first step would be to make it easier for counties to have their own road agencies and eliminate their county road commissions. This consolidation would eliminate duplicate administration and make them accountable to elected officials. It would also bring together county planning with road planning, which could result in significant savings through proper land use planning.

However, under current state law this consolidation is prohibited for all but two counties — Wayne and Macomb. State law also requires counties to become charter counties first, something that takes significant time and money.

And when Macomb County adopted a charter a year ago, 64% of their voters also chose to dissolve their road commission.

We should make it easier for voters in the other 81 Michigan counties to consolidate and save taxpayer money.