The quality of Michigan roads is plummeting, and Ann Arbor and its neighbors are keeping in step. A report released Monday by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association showed that a whopping one third of Michigan’s roads are in need of total repair. Of those, 977 miles of poor road are right here in Washtenaw County. And while state and local governments have a responsibility to keep infrastructure safe, the state’s budget situation render many repairs unfeasible. But going forward, the best way to make up for shabby roads — and help the environment while doing so — is to improve public transportation systems.

The study by MITA found that in 2008, 32 percent of Michigan roads are considered to be in “poor” condition, which means that they require complete repair. In 2007, only 25 percent of roads were considered to be in “poor” condition. The same study listed Washtenaw County as the fourth worst for road quality in Michigan, behind Oakland, Wayne and Genesee Counties. It ranked Ann Arbor’s roads as the third worst in the state behind Detroit and Grand Rapids.

It’s not really a surprise that urban communities like Ann Arbor fared particularly badly, though, as the study based its rankings on total mileage of bad roads. Since Grand Rapids, Detroit and Ann Arbor are large cities with many miles of roads, their placement at the top of the list should be taken with a grain of salt.

But Michigan’s roads are certainly in poor condition. One reason is the weather, which causes a lot of damage. And lax regulations that permit heavy vehicles on Michigan’s roads only make matters worse. But actual efforts to improve road quality on a grand scale don’t seem too likely in the current economic climate. The state’s overwhelming budget crisis means that some repairs just aren’t affordable.

Instead, the key is an improved public transportation system, in urban areas and statewide. Projects to accomplish this end are already underway — proposed light rail trains between Detroit and Ann Arbor, for example, would make travel easy and cheap. This is the direction the state’s transportation network should head. More mass transit will allow people to travel across the state and ease the burden on existing highways. As an additional perk, public transportation systems have the potential to improve the environment by decreasing emissions.

When the quality of a road becomes a safety concern, state and local government do need to step in. A prime example of this is the East Stadium Boulevard Bridge, which passes over South State State near Michigan Stadium. The bridge is in such a state of disrepair that driving on it has caused chunks of concrete to fall onto the street below. The estimated cost of repairs comes in at $23 million. City plans for a partnership with the University to offset costs failed, killing hope for a renovation. In the meantime, City Council approved $100,000 in late October for stopgap measures to stall further deterioration. But stopgaps aren’t enough. Stadium Bridge is dangerous, and the city needs to take whatever means necessary to raise the money to fix it.

Michigan roads aren’t going to improve overnight, and certainly not in this economic climate. But we don’t need to fix every road if the state starts working toward a viable mass transportation system. In the meantime, roads that put drivers in serious danger need to be prioritized.

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