Local Road Taxes Help Support Southeastern Michigan Roads

The state of the roads in Michigan are well known to be largely in poor condition, and funding never seems to be at a point to allow for a total overhaul toward long-term improvement. Road funding in Michigan doesn’t come from one dedicated source. Rather, there is federal funding provided by the Federal Highway Administration Highway Trust Fund, state funding provided by state fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, income taxes, additional appropriations decided on by the Legislature, and local funding provided by general tax revenue and additional road millages. This post shows the communities in Southeastern Michigan that have additional road millages to further improve the roads.

According to the data provided by the Michigan Department of Treasury, there are 73 communities in Southeastern Michigan that levy an additional tax to support road funding, along with two counties. These millages are intended to improve road funding. Of all the communities that levy a road millage, the City of Melvindale has the highest road levy at 6.7 mills, followed by the City of Grosse Pointe and the City of St. Clair which both levy 2.5 mills. The City of Sterling Heights levies the fourth highest amount in the region at 2.47.

Freedom Township and St. Clair County levy the lowest amounts at 0.25 mills each. The only other county in the region to levy a road tax is Washtenaw County which has a 0.49 millage.

Another item to note is that there are more townships levy road taxes than cities and villages. This is likely due to the fact that township roads are controlled by county road departments/commissions, meaning more competition for road dollars.

A mill is a $1 tax per $1,000 of assessed taxable value. For example, a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 (true value at $400,000) in a city that levies a 2.5 millage would pay an additional $250 in city taxes. Of course, how much money a community receives in total from a road millage will vary depending on the number of homes in a community along with the average home value of a community.

According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy there is a strong correlation between improved road conditions and a road millage. According to the Center, 58 percent of roads in a city without a road millage are in poor condition. And, if a city has a road millage, each mill is correlated with a six-point reduction in the percentage of roads in poor condition. This is not necessarily true for villages, where 47 percent of roads in villages without a road millage are in poor condition. This differentiation could be due to the fact that villages typically have less taxable property value, meaning they would need a higher levy to get the dollars needed for more improvement.

Below is a map of communities in Southeastern Michigan that levy a road tax, along with lists to show what communities are making additional investments into their road infrastructure.

Southeastern Michigan County Roads Far Below Average

In 2018 not one county in Southeastern Michigan had at least 25 percent of its road pavement deemed to be in “good” condition, according to the Southeastern Michigan Council of Government (SEMCOG). Rather, the pendulum swung the other way, with each county having at least 33 percent of its road pavement deemed to be in “poor” condition.

The ratings-“good,” “fair,” and “poor”-are determined according to the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) system, which are linked to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council’s best practices. For roads to be deemed in “good” condition they must be new, or like new, and only require regular maintenance. Roads that are considered “fair” have some signs of aging and require preventative maintenance such as crack sealing and overlay, which will extend the life of the road. “Poor” condition roads require some type of rehabilitation or reconstruction and are near the end of their life.

Regionally, St. Clair County has the largest percentage of road pavement deemed to be in “poor” condition at 54 percent. Oakland County has the next largest percentage of road pavement in “poor” condition at 49 percent. Monroe County has the lowest percentage of roads deemed to be in “poor” condition at 33 percent.

With Monroe County having the lowest percentage of roads in “poor” condition it also has the highest percentage of roads in “good” condition at 36 percent. Wayne County has the lowest percentage of roads in “good” condition at 15 percent. In addition to Wayne, Oakland and St. Clair counties have less than 20 percent of its road pavement in “good” condition (16 and 17 percent, respectively).


In the “fair” condition category, Wayne County has the highest percentage of roads in that condition at 39 percent. Washtenaw County has the lowest percentage of “fair” condition roads at 28 percent.

By now, it is common knowledge that Michigan’s roads need attention, and the funding to ensure the reconstruction and general maintenance of the roads needs to change from its current structure. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently proposed a 45 cent fuel tax hike, which is said to increase state road funding by $2.5 billion by 2021. Under this plan, the distribution of road funds (which is determined by Public Act 51) would slightly differ. Each county would still receive its normal share of the state’s current 26.3 cent per-gallon gas tax, but the additional gas tax increase would be distributed based on the use of roadways.  Currently in Michigan, counties receive 56 percent of their funding from vehicle fees, 24 percent based on the miles of county roads and the remaining 20 percent is based on other factors.

Whether Whitmer’s plan will be adopted remains in the air, but there seems to be general agreement that more funding is needed to fix the roads.

Washtenaw, St. Clair counties have highest percentage of roads in poor condition

On May 5, 2015, the citizens of Michigan are being asked to vote on Proposal 1, which is the State Legislature’s solution to finding more funding to improve Michigan’s roads. In a nutshell, the proposal is asking voters if they support amending the State Constitution to:

  • Eliminate the sales and use tax on gasoline
  • Increase the sales and use tax from 6 percent to 7 percent
  • Increase the portion of the use tax that goes to the School Aid Fund and extend those benefits to higher education and training centers
  • Increase the gas tax and vehicle registration fees
  • Increase the earned income tax credit

(For the exact ballot language please click here.)

Although the proposal, if passed, would affect more than just road funding, much of the discussion revolving around it has been centered on the roads, as can be seen by information offered by the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, the Citizens Research Council, state and local road departments and even school representatives.

For the purpose of this post, we show what percentage of pavement segments throughout the Southeastern Michigan region were deemed by the Michigan Department of Transportation to be in “good,” “fair,” and “poor” conditions in 2013. Additionally, we look at the condition of bridges in the region during 2014.

The Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) system was used to determine the conditions of the roads in 2013. According to this system, a road in “fair” condition needs preventative maintenance while a road in “poor” condition needs a structural fix.

Not one of the seven counties in the Southeastern Michigan region had above 25 percent of its pavement segments deemed to be in “good” condition in 2013 by the Michigan Department of Transportation. St. Clair County had the highest percentage of “good” pavement segments at 24.65 percent and Monroe County had the lowest at 14.08 percent. In comparison to the state average (19.09%), Washtenaw, Macomb and St. Clair counties were the only counties in the region with a higher percentage of pavement segments deemed to be in “good” condition.

When looking at the percentage of pavement segments deemed to be in “good” condition by city, we see that Brighton had 0 percent of its pavement classified with this distinction. Brighton is located in Livingston County and only 14.57 percent of the pavement segments in the county were in “good” condition in 2013. Although only 15.15 percent of Detroit’s road were deemed to be in “good” condition in 2013, there were other cities with a lower percentage of “good” pavements. These cities include: Warren, Grosse Point Park and Livonia.

The percentage of pavement segments in “fair” condition throughout the region is higher than those in “good” condition for all seven counties. Monroe County had the highest percentage of segments in “fair” condition at 58.1 percent, while St. Clair County had the lowest at 35.9 percent. Only St. Clair and Washtenaw counties had a lower percentage of “fair” pavement segments than the state average, which was 47.25 percent.

A look at the cities’ pavement conditions shows that Brighton had the highest percentage of “fair” roads at 73.29 percent. The city of Monroe has the lowest percentage at 17.47 percent; this was lower than the state average. Other cities with the percentage of “fair” pavement conditions below the state average were: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Mount Clemens and Port Huron.

About a third of the region’s pavement segments were deemed to be in “poor” condition (32.3% average for the region), a figure similar to the state average (33.65%). When looking at each individual county in the region, we see that only two-Washtenaw and St. Clair-had a higher percentage of “poor” pavement segments than the state average. St. Clair County had the highest percentage at 39.45 percent and Washtenaw County came in just below that at 38.3 percent.

Port Huron, located in St. Clair County, had the highest percentage of pavement deemed to be in “poor” condition at 57.21 percent. Lincoln Park had the lowest at 7.51 percent. Detroit came in at 32.46 percent.

Wayne County had the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the region in 2014 (15.49 percent), according to the Michigan Department of Transportation. For the city of Detroit, 22.59 percent of its bridges were deemed structurally deficient at that time. In recent weeks, it has been reported by the Detroit News that the I-75 Rouge River Bridge in Detroit is so structurally deficient that holes can be seen through the pavement in some areas. The Fort Street and Jefferson Avenue bridges over the Rouge River in that area are also closed for construction. The West Jefferson Avenue bridge has been closed for repair since 2013 because a bridge operator closed it on a passing boat, according to the News Herald. In addition, the News Herald reports that the Fort Street bridge over the Rouge River has been closed since 2013 because of necessary maintenance projects.

Outside of Wayne County, Livingston and Monroe were the only other counties in the region with a higher percentage of structurally deficient bridges (14.24% and 10.45%, respectively) than the state average (8.82%).

Aside from Detroit, the city of Mount Clemens was the only community shown in this post that had more than 20 percent of its bridges deemed structurally deficient.

The information presented throughout this post highlights the conditions of Southeast Michigan’s roads and bridges. The May 5 ballot proposal, Proposal 15-1, is being presented by Governor Rick Snyder as the solution to ensuring Michigan’s roads receive additional funding so the number of roads in poor conditions doesn’t continue to increase. However, approval of this ballot proposal does mean tax increases. The proposed sales and use tax increase, from 6 to 7 percent, would be used to increase state revenue sharing to cities, townships, villages and counties; it would also increase monies going to the School Aid Fund. These monies would not be used on roads, according to the Citizen’s Research Council.

While gasoline and diesel fuel would be exempt from the sales and use taxes under this proposal, the overall gas taxes would increase to 14.9 percent of the price of each fuel; these initial tax rates would be 41.7 cents for each gallon of gas and a 46.4 cents for each gallon of diesel, according to the House Fiscal Agency. These monies, along with increased vehicle registration revenues, would be solely used for transportation and road funding, according to the Citizens Research Council. However, as reported in the Detroit Free Press and other news outlets, if Proposal 15-1 passes about $13.5 million dollars of the new road money would be spent on Michigan Department of Transportation debt in the fist two years.

What has been touched upon in this post is just scratching the surface on the intricacies of this proposal and the background on Michigan’s road conditions, to learn more about this proposal visit the following sites:

http://www.house.mi.gov/hfa/PDF/Transportation/Legislative_Analysis_Transportation_Funding_Package.pdf

http://www.crcmich.org/PUBLICAT/2010s/2015/transportation_funding_proposal.html