The Grand Valley Metro Council predicted its annual budget would have to double to meet road improvement goals by 2045, which begs the question whether a dedicated road millage for Kent County would help close the gap.
Ultimately there is no dedicated millage for roadwork at the county level because voters haven’t approved one, and the Kent County Board of Commissioners would first need to approve any millage that goes to the ballot.
District 18 Commissioner Stephen Wooden said he personally would need to know the funds from such a millage could be distributed to other jurisdictions that maintain roads and distribution would be fair and equitable before consideration.
Kent County, with a diverse mix of urban, suburban and rural communities, has a decentralized road maintenance network, where different agencies and governments each get money for roads within their jurisdiction, Wooden said.
The state of Michigan has been a primary funder for local roads since Public Act 51 of 1951 was passed. Since Kent County's road responsibilities are relatively less compared to other counties that have millages themselves, Wooden said he would prefer the state formulate a long-term solution to road funding before the county considered any new proposals.
“As someone who represents a district that is predominantly in Grand Rapids, I would be worried that my constituents would be ‘double-taxed’ without receiving a fair return on their investment,” Wooden said.
While Kent County appoints board members to the Kent County Road Commission, the commission has full autonomy when it comes to spending money on roadwork.
According to GVMC data for all roads within its jurisdiction, West Michigan’s roads had a PASER — Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating — score of 59.99% good/fair as of 2019.
GVMC’s coverage area encompasses approximately 3,580 road miles, including most roads within Kent County — county roads, state roads, trunklines, etc. — and a portion of roads within Ottawa County.
The GVMC Metropolitan Transportation Plan identifies current and future transportation needs for West Michigan. The list of projects selected to address these needs must be financially constrained, meaning that the project cost cannot exceed the amount of funding reasonably expected to be available over the life of the plan.
The development and maintenance of Michigan’s transportation system is primarily financed through gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, which are deposited in the Michigan Transportation Fund.
The distribution of the MTF is administered and distributed in accordance with PA 51 of 1951. Approximately 60% of KCRC’s revenue comes from the MTF.
The gas tax includes a federal government tax of $0.184 per gallon on gasoline and $0.244 per gallon on diesel, a Michigan state tax of $0.263 per gallon for both gasoline and diesel and the Michigan sales tax of 6% on motor vehicle fuel sales, but this does not support transportation.
Throughout the development of this MTP, GVMC made efforts to establish a basic vision of what it collectively would like the region’s transportation system to be in the year 2045 and how the system could achieve optimal performance. Issues related to the condition of the pavement, the reliability of travel times, the convenience of the local transit system, the availability of alternate means of transportation and the efficiency of moving freight throughout the system all were analyzed.
The results of this analysis concluded that in order to achieve a PASER rating of 6 for pavement, which is considered fair condition, GVMC would need a 50% increase in the annual budget, or $20.5 million, which would bring the total annual investment for pavement from $41 million to $61.5 million.
Steve Warren, KCRC managing director, said county roads fall into two categories per PA 51, and funding responsibilities differ between categories. County primary roads, or roads within the public right-of-way, are 100% funded and maintained by KCRC, whereas funding for local roads within a given township is split 50/50 between the township and KCRC.
Warren said the PASER rating for Kent County’s primary roads was 74% good/fair as of 2019, and the county has a goal to raise the good/fair rating to 90% by 2025.
Comparatively, the local roads in Kent County — which include rural roads and subdivision streets — have a PASER rating of about 53% good/fair. Warren said the maintenance objectives for those roads ultimately fall on the townships.
“Our objective is to make available matching dollars for those townships, so if they want to make improvements, we’ll match the cost. But the road commission can’t tell them to do it, because by law they have to contribute 50%,” Warren said. “That’s the bottom line.”
When asked about the disparity between good/fair and poor roads noted by the GVMC, Warren said the comparison is apples-to-oranges. GVMC’s responsibility is looking at the condition and developing plans for the high-level system, including state roads and highways. The network, however, doesn’t include about 1,000 miles of county local roads.
“When we talk about millages, they’re generally used around the state for townships to invest in their local roads,” Warren said. “That’s not to say there couldn’t be a millage and some of that millage money couldn’t be used to improve county roads.”
Warren said he’s confident KCRC will meet its 2025 goals without the need for a countywide millage. The various townships within Kent County have steadily increased their funding for road improvement over the years.
“Historically, there has not been road millages in Kent County,” Warren said. “They (townships) generally work with us quite closely in determining where those improvements should be made. Some townships also put a lot of money into their gravel roads.”
In 2016, for example, townships contributed $4.1 million for local roads, and the road commission matched those dollars. Warren said the road commission anticipates the number will be $6.8 million in 2020.
Michael DeVries, supervisor for Grand Rapids Township, agreed the cost-share formula between KCRC and townships historically has worked well on the township level.
“It’s always been a priority for us,” DeVries said of the township. “Over time we’ve always had the same amount of our roads in good to excellent shape. Someone’s always going to find a road that isn’t that way, but I can assure you it’s on our list.”
DeVries said about 80% of local roads within Grand Rapids Township have consistently had a PASER rating good/fair.