Under a draft version of Michigan’s transportation plan for the next five years, funding for “capacity improvements and new roads” will drop drastically in 2006 and will continue to decline until 2009, when there will be no money at all allocated to road funding. The funding rollback would halt pending construction projects in the Ann Arbor area: the widening of US-23 and the rebuilding of the I-94 interchange at Baker Road. The state has also considered a gas tax increase to generate funds for basic road repairs and maintenance.
These radical cutbacks are due to the tight federal allocations, which have forced the state to change its priorities regarding its transportation needs. While, on the surface, the state’s decision to drastically cut funding for road projects may seem to be a bad one, it may turn out to be prudent. Opponents of this plan have hinted that the state is insensitive to commuters, suggesting that the plan will strand drivers in gridlock. However, the construction of more roads will not only lead to greater urban sprawl, but also fail to alleviate traffic problems. Indeed, by halting road construction, the state is in a better position to address congestion issues by improving the public transportation system.
An efficient public transportation system is essential to maintaining vibrant urban districts as well as curbing pollution and congestion. The city of Detroit, which has a mediocre public transportation system, has been savaged by suburban flight. More and more residents of southeast Michigan are spread throughout the sprawling region, connected by freeways and roads. In the long run, a further developed public transportation system would solve urban traffic and smog problems far more effectively than road construction. Traditional solutions to congestion – highway expansion, for example – are effective only in the short run. In addition, they do nothing to address pollution and air quality concerns. Now that the state has decided not to fund further road construction, it can attempt to tackle these problems by creating a public transportation network.
The proposed gas tax increase is also, despite popular opinion, a sound idea. Although such a consumption tax would be regressive, it would put pressure on individuals to decrease fuel consumption and purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. In addition to the economic costs of producing the fuels themselves, the use of these fuels inflicts damaging environmental costs on society. Low fuel prices only tempt individuals to buy vehicles that consume irresponsible amounts of gasoline. A higher gas tax, and thus higher price of fuel, would make individuals pay a larger “penalty” for driving inefficient vehicles. A higher gas tax would also encourage people to use public transportation more often. Hence, a gas tax increase would provide many benefits, by generating more revenue for the state, encouraging fuel efficiency and providing an incentive to use public transportation.
It is clear the state made a good decision in cutting road funding, and it should strongly consider passing the suggested gas tax increase.