Lenawee County Road Commission managing director Scott Merillat thought he had a good project lined up for Morenci area drivers.
The county’s portion of Weston Road from Mulberry south to the city limits was scheduled for seal coating and the city’s short section leading to Main Street would be rebuilt.
Then came a policy change from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the project fell apart.
“At the last minute, MDOT stopped all projects for review and then came back with a $400,000 limit for force account projects for any one agency,” Merillat said.
A “force account” is when noncompetitive bidding is used. In this case, the road commission uses its own labor, equipment and materials rather than contracting the work out to private companies.
Merillat said his agency had plans for various resurfacing projects throughout the county using $2.1 million in federal funds.
“This left us scrambling to assemble a revised construction schedule for this year,” explained Merillat.
Seal coat for the county portion of Weston Road was eliminated from federal funding and instead county funds will be used. The work on the city’s section was also taken out of federal funding plans and scaled back.
The City of Morenci was expected to pay 20 percent of the costs, plus engineering, to have the old surface removed and rebuilt with a new, wider base and improved drainage.
Now the project has been reduced to resurfacing, what Merillat calls a “Band-Aid to make it drivable” for a few more years. The city will pay $14,372 for the work.
Merillat said when he left the road commission in 2000 for another job, road overlay cost $35,000 a mile. Twelve years later the cost is close to $100,000 a mile. Seal coating cost $7,000 a mile, but now stands at about $18,000.
Those cost increases pose a huge challenge when revenue is tied to tax revenue via the sale of gasoline.
“The state tax per gallon was last raised in 1997 and the gallons used are decreasing based on increasing pump prices,” Merillat said. “Unfortunately, during the same time period the cost of materials has increased by two to three times the amount.”
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder says the state needs to invest $1.4 billion every year in road repair, but the funds haven’t been forthcoming in that amount.
Like many people in Merillat’s line of work, he’s worried about the future of the country’s roads and bridges.
“Reduced revenue with increased costs makes for a terrifying outlook on our national infrastructure,” he said.