Fact Check: Are Lansing’s Roads Getting Better?

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Requirement:

“I am pleased to report that the average PASER rating, which is the industry standard, measuring road condition, has increased from previous years.”

Andy Schor, Mayor of Lansing

WKAR’s note: True, although the increase is very slight and most city-owned roads remain in poor condition.

Peak pothole season is upon us as the streets freeze and thaw and Mayor Andy Schor used his State of the City address last week to shine a light on the state of Lansing’s roads .

Specifically, he pointed to some good news: the average road rating under an industry-wide system has improved in recent years, he said.

But is it true?

Yes, but with reservations.

How authorities rate roads

Officials across the country use the Pavement Surface Rating and Rating System to rate pavement conditions as poor, fair, or good on a scale of one to 10. A rating of one or two corresponds to a “faulty” road that needs to be completely rebuilt. A three to four is “poor” while a five to six is ​​”fair”. Anything above seven is considered “good” and only requires routine maintenance like sealing cracks.

Despite uptick in ratings, most roads in Lansing are in poor condition

In 2021, the more than 400 miles of roads maintained by the City of Lansing earned an average rating of 3.6 — a decidedly mediocre rating up very slightly from 3.36 the previous year, according to figures provided by the city.

In 2019, the average rating for these roads was 3.49, up slightly after more than a decade of deterioration.

In 2006, Lansing-maintained roads were solidly in the fair category with an average rating of 5.74. By 2018, that average had fallen to 3.4.

Source: City of Lansing

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This chart from the Lansing Department of Public Service shows how the average rating of city-maintained roads has changed over time under the Pavement Surface Rating and Rating System. Roads rated below four are “poor” while those between five and six are “fair”. Any score around a seven is “good”.

Lansing officials point to decades of underfunding

Lansing Public Service Director Andy Kilpatrick says decades of underfunding are largely to blame, and he acknowledges recent gains have been negligible.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a long-term trend,” Kilpatrick said of the improved road scores. “If you see a few tenths of a point going up one year, that doesn’t mean next year it’s not going to come back down. So I think we’re at a point where we’re stable now with that rating. But it’s going to take several years before I can definitively say, ‘Yes, the average condition of our roads is improving.'”

City Engineer Ann Parry noted in an email that pavement scores may have improved slightly, in part because Lansing’s roads were so bad to begin with.

City roads ‘can’t get much worse’

“They can’t get worse, so any effort we put in has an effect,” she wrote.

Perry also pointed to bumps in local, state and federal funding and said the city has been experimenting with new repair techniques while prioritizing streets that can be repaired in the most cost-effective way.

Poor roads require more money to restore to good condition than good ones, and Kilpatrick estimated that Lansing would need an additional $10-15 million each year over the next decade to restore most roads. in good condition.

“It could drop back down to the same level we’re currently spending once those routes are back in the fair range,” he said.

Lansing has budgeted more than $7 million for capital improvements, including road repairs, in the current fiscal year, and Schor is considering asking the city council to increase that total by $150,000 in the year. over the next budget cycle, Kilpatrick said.

The mayor recognizes that the state of the roads is still far from acceptable

During his speech last week, Schor acknowledged that Lansing’s pockmarked pavement still needs a lot of improvement.

“While we certainly have a long way to go to reach what everyone would call an acceptable overall condition, it’s reassuring to see that the extra dollars are just starting to have a measurable impact,” he said.

Kilpatrick says he’s somewhat optimistic because the city has resumed sewer separation work it paused in 2010 in the aftermath of the Great Recession. This federally mandated project is having a positive impact on road quality as the city replaces roads above pipes when workers enter to separate storm and sewer lines.

Kilpatrick also noted that the Lansing Board of Water & Light is accelerating the pace of water main repairs, resulting in the replacement of a few extra miles of road each year.

Local roads in Lansing are worse than state average

Throughout Michigan, local roads are in worse condition than state and federal highways and trunk lines.

Nevertheless, the streets of Lansing are in even worse condition than other roads maintained by cities and towns in the state.

About 58% of roads maintained by Lansing were in poor condition, compared to 49% of all local roads in Michigan, according to 2019 data from the Transportation Asset Management Council of Michigan.

Local money for Lansing’s roads comes from sewer fees, property taxes, and the city’s general fund. Cities also receive a share of a state fund provided by the gas tax and vehicle registrations, although some critics say the formula for distributing this money favors rural communities over urban areas like Lansing.

State gas tax exemption could affect road funding

Part of this public funding could be blocked if Michigan suspends its 27-cent-a-gallon gas tax for six months. The proposal, which authorized the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, would cost cities and towns across the state $142 million in funding for roads and bridges, according to the non-partisan House Fiscal agency.

Republicans say the state could make up for those highway funding losses with surplus funds and federal stimulus dollars.

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