For the past several months both the Senate and House have been working on a package of bills to reform the transportation landscape in Michigan. This week the Senate passed the majority of the bills they have been discussing. The League has been involved in the negotiation of this package and has secured a number of changes but there is still more to be done on a few of the bills. Here is a summary of each of the bills in the package.
SB 515 would require MDOT by May 1, 2020, to create a highway construction cost index to measure inflation in highway construction costs for road and bridge projects. The League was neutral on this bill as language was removed that would have made recommendations to local road agencies on how they could create local a local cost index. The bill passed by a vote of 30-8.
SB 516 would require asset management plans that currently cover a three-year period, and are now required to be submitted to the Transportation Asset Management Council, to cover a five-year period. While the League supports asset management planning, we are opposed to this bill as it adds additional requirements with no benefits to the local road agency, and in many cases the plans submitted are not reviewed. This bill passed by a vote of 30-8.
SB 517 would require MDOT to work with an outside consulting firm to study the possibility of bringing toll roads to Michigan. While this bill received more attention than any bill in the package, it does not have a direct impact on local road agencies. The League did not take a position on this bill. By a vote of 31-7, the bill passed the Senate.
SB 518 and SB 519 would allow for a process to exchange local federal aid dollars for state transportation funds. The League supports these bills in concept knowing that they may allow additional flexibility and cost savings at the local level. The bills have gone throughseveral changes since being introduced and no longer require the exchange to happen. Instead, the exchange would only happen if the local requested it of the department. The department would be required to do the exchange but for no more than 80% of the total amount of federal funds received by the state. So, a community could exchange 100% of their federal funds as long as the state has not exceeded their 80% cap. MDOT would also have to exchange those funds dollar for dollar. Language was also included in these bills to protect the regional planning process and ensure information is shared between entities. The bills passed the Senate on a party line vote of 22-16.
SB 520 makes important changes to the local warranty program that was passed at part of the 2015 transportation package. These changes will ensure the smooth implementation and codify the work that has already been done at the local level. The League supports these changes. The bill passed on a party line vote of 22-16.
SB 522 would require MDOT, in conjunction with local road agency associations, to create and operate an engineering services grant program to help local road agencies navigate issues with the department. This codifies in statute an existing program in the department and guarantees that it will be funded. This program has been very beneficial to our members and the League supports the bill. The bill passed on a party line vote of 22-16.
SB 524 was the one bill in the package that was on the Senate agenda but did not pass. It was postponed due to cost concerns to the department and local agencies. The bill would have required the posting of certain information at certain state and local road construction sites. While the bill was scaled back significantly when compared to the introduced version, concerns remained. It is unknown if this bill will come up again.
As these bills move to the House, the League will continue its advocacy efforts to secure additional changes to address our areas of concern.
John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State and Federal Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at [email protected] or 517-908-0303.