Home > Complete Streets, Crank, Design the Details, Economics, Editorial > County Road Commission: The epitome of dysfunction

County Road Commission: The epitome of dysfunction

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A crank made too easy

Here at MyWHaT we lack the capacity to really follow the County Road Commission. They have been known to have oddly timed meetings and recently they didn’t even think it necessary to post agendas (RE). On occasion, however, we have mentioned them. Once on why a transportation road mileage request failed (communication with constituents!) and, tangentially, there was a guest post on Michigan’s new law permitting the dissolving of County Road Commissions–recently, the Grand Traverse County Road Commission has increased that likelihood.

Last week the road commission myopically voted to stop funding the closest thing we have to regional planning, TC-TALUS (RE). Mind you, the CRC is only one contributor to the planning body operated though the NWMCouncil of Governments, but is a vital interest and their vote to retreat has many worried (RE)–rightly so.

With this vote they are effectively saying, we don’t want to coordinate with other agencies. They are also effectively saying that they don’t want to attract outside funding for transportation projects. As the Record Eagle’s Sunday editorial rightly points out, transportation funding is scarce and competitive. Communities without a regional approach only see their competitiveness, and opportunities for money, decrease (RE).

Anti-planners in the community and on the County Road Commission have spoken, and despite their continued call for more pavement, with these types of actions they only move further away from their dreams of a world paved over. Although we don’t agree here with their focus on roads built straighter, wider, faster, we do recognize that nothing will be built, including complete streets, without outside funding.

That the county road commission voted against a $20,000 annual planning allowance while still in the shadow of extending their own per diem allowance of $8,000 per commissioner (RE), to go with their questionable salary and health benefits, only adds to the nuttiness that northern Michigan has come to expect from the County Road Commission.

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Related on MyWHaT:

Record Eagle Coverage:

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  1. January 28, 2013 at 11:29 am

    A reminder, comments that are abusive and inflammatory will not be approved. They don’t deserve to be approved and won’t be.

    That said, a comment was sent in this morning that questioned my right to criticize the county road commission. Apparently, the logic goes that those who might choose to walk or bike occasionally, don’t contribute their fair share. This deserves more attention in the future, but I would like to take this opportunity to say: this idea is complete malarkey.

    Indeed, the opposite is closer to the truth; those who drive less, actually subsidize those who drive the most. There is extensive literature supporting this, but we can get a sense of it simply looking at our current so-called “user-fees”.

    For all transportation investments, the user fees of the gas tax, registration fees, tolls, and the like fund only a fraction of the total federal transportation expense. In Michigan, user fees account for just under 30%(Tax Foundation), with the remainder being made-up by general fund dollars that we all pay into regardless of our mode. To boot, most of those dollars go to non-local streets. The key study out there highlighting this is Seattle, where it was found that user-fees like the gas tax accounted for a mere 4% of local street and roadway infrastrure.

  2. Greg
    January 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    What has TC-TALUS done for Grand Traverse County? What road and street repairs have they acomplished?

  3. January 30, 2013 at 9:54 am

    I’ll let TC-TALUS answer for themselves on specifics, however, I will point out that regional planning, meaning coordination between a multitude of agencies, government bodies, and their subsequent constituents is a commendable undertaking and before TC-TALUS’s creation a pipe-dream for Northwest Lower Michigan.

    It may be true that the body hasn’t lived up to some people’s desires, or perhaps their understandings of the purpose, but in the past 17-years TC-TALUS has served as a project manager, project fiduciary, and active participant on a long list of projects that without them, would still be on a spreadsheet somewhere as one of those capital improvement projects always 5-years away.

  4. January 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    It seems like you’re talking about possibly two different roles here, Gary. As to your second point you’re talking about TC-TALUS serving as a project manager, etc on a list of projects. Aside from their involvement in rubber-stamping the Hartman-Hammond project time and time again, I don’t have any knowledge one way or the other about what you’re talking about. I do wonder, though, to the extent that the role they’ve evidently played of a project fiduciary, etc, whether that role could not be played instead by some other entity, like somebody already on the payroll at the County Road Commission or at the County. To my knowledge, TALUS is comprised of an administrator (Matt Skeels) and appointed representatives from the townships, the city, and I believe an at large or two. I wonder at the extent to which these representatives have acted as what you term fiduciary/manager/etc. And to the extent that Mr. Skeels is, I believe, a planner by training I wonder as to what degree he actively “manages” construction projects. In other words, I wonder if this isn’t work that could be off-loaded to somebody else already getting a paycheck.

    On your first point, again with my admitted ignorance, I haven’t seen the great work that TALUS has done in regard to regional planning and coordination. Again, my experience with TALUS is almost entirely limited to Hartman-Hammond.
    But to the extent that you’re talking about coordination I guess you’ll have to give some examples and let us know why having TALUS was necessary. Because, again, TALUS is one staffer and a bunch of people mostly from the townships. If those folks want to get together and talk about regional projects, etc, there’s nothing stopping them from doing that apart from doing at a TALUS meeting.

    As far what you’re saying about TALUS and regional planning I’m not sure what you mean by that because there is no such thing as a regional plan for the Grand Traverse area in any real sense. Of course, there was $1,700,000+ spent on what was billed as a regional transportation and land use plan as part of the Grand Vision but we all know nothing came out of that. Or, I should write, a six-page flyer was produced with a useless land-use plan and a transportation study/plan was generated by the consultants and then immediately put on the shelf.

    Still, maybe TALUS is the deal of the century as far as time/money invested and money that the area is getting back
    for transportation projects and planning grants. I really have no idea. And I also wonder to what degree there needs to something called “TALUS” in order to qualify for these grants. Because there is no regional plan, how hard could the funding agencies be looking at what needs to be there to qualify as a regional planning body?

    Also the idea that TALUS is integral to some sort of concerted and democratically accountable effort at regional planning, and thereby couldn’t be dispensed with, seems off base. For one, in order to have meaningful planning you also need to have that same entity doing the zoning at the same time. And that’s light years away if ever from arriving in northern Michigan. Grand Traverse County has a master plan, and a planning commission, and at least one paid full-time county planner. Aside from scrubbing all references to global warming from the master plan, what’s the last time the County planning commission did anything relevant? Nobody cares what they do because their plan is almost entirely irrelevant, because the County doesn’t by and large have any zoning authority (although it could).

    Moves like the joint planning/zoning commission for the Grand Traverse Commons and the Village of Onekama possibly merging with Onekama Township (maybe this already happened) are actual examples of regional cooperation, because there you’ve got the same, democratically elected body doing both planning and zoning at the same time, and are steps in the right direction. But I wouldn’t hold TALUS up as a way forward and essentially to moving to a more regional approach to planning/zoning in the Grand Traverse Region.

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