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Michigan roads have been deteriorating over the years and a tight budget is worsening the problem. Many articles have been published in the media describing horrid situations including chunks of cement falling from bridge overpasses, crumbling cement that exposes rebar, and potholes that are deep enough to break axels on cars. In the current economic crisis, safety has not been the most important consideration among the various government entities responsible for maintaining roads.

In a study released in October 2008, one third of nearly 4,400 state owned bridges in Michigan were deemed "structurally deficient", not meeting traffic standards. By 2007, an average of 25% of Michigan’s roads were in poor shape, with some counties as high as 61%. Kent County Road Commission Deputy Director Steve Warren said "I’’m fearful for the health of the system, ……without the proper investment in existing roads." Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Rich Studley, co-chair of a state transportation task force recommended changes in policy cites more car crashes, injuries, deaths, vehicle damage, and job losses, stating "there’s a real cost to political and financial neglect of our transportation system."

Part of the cause of this mess on roads and bridges is due to big cuts in state highway funding. Eric Rickert, of Scott Civil engineering an inspector of bridges stated that "it’s not getting better". Although MDOT spokeswoman Dawn Garner said the state is spending $191 million a year over the next five years to repair or replace bridges, permanent repairs have not been made in many areas.

State officials are looking for a change including gas tax increases and a piece of the federal stimulus proposals of President-elect Obama. Although there is a Grant of Governmental Immunity in MCL 691.1407(1), there is a Highway Exception:

Each governmental agency having jurisdiction over a highway shall maintain the highway in reasonable repair so that it is reasonable safe and convenient for public travel. A person who sustains……injury……due to the failure of the governmental agency to keep a highway……in reasonable repair……may recover damages. The governmental agency may not escape liability by allowing a road to deteriorate to a point where the only economically feasible ‘maintenance’ is to reconstruct the entire roadway. There is an affirmative duty on a governmental agency ……to maintain the highway in reasonable repair.

Wilson v Alpena County Road Comm, 263 Mich App 141 (2004).

Even with the gloomy evaluation of Michigan’s roadways, state, county and local officials say the bridges and roads are safe (pdf). That sounds like wishful thinking. Hopefully, the next chunk of cement that falls into the roadway does not smash into your car.

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