The "Get in the game" letter by my friend Darryl K. Wickman in the Feb. 21 Daily News stated "Michigan lawmakers continue to allow the heaviest truck weights in the nation (of all 50 states) resulting in premature destruction of our roads, while taxpayers continue to pay the repair bill."
While the first part of this statement is fact, I'd like to use this as an opportunity to comment on the rest of it. It's a common perception that our large Michigan 11-axle, 164,000 lb. maximum (when loaded) trucks are the sole cause of our poor roads but the corrosive effects of salt, the spring thaw and underfunding are the primary culprits.
Even though our gross vehicle weights are higher than the federal weights, our trucks ride on more axles, our axle weights are less, spreading the weight out which allows less wear and tear on the roads, but also allows less trucks as well as providing substantial economic benefits. A typical Michigan 11-axle truck and pup trailer has 42 tires vs. a typical Wisconsin 98,000 lb. 6-axle truck and pup trailer has 22 tires so our Michigan trucks actually have less weight per tire resulting in less road damage.
Largest allowable gross weight limit of a Canadian truck is 138,000 lb. on 8-axles so our legislators have already looked beyond our borders and found a better solution.
We all know what salt does to our vehicles but we don't normally consider that it's just as harmful to our roads and environment. For an excellent article on the cost of road salt use go to www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/15189.
The article says "road salt contributes to the premature degradation of infrastructure" and that the conservative "hidden costs of salt would add another $400 million to our (Michigan's) annual costs for providing clear roads during the winter months." And "Many of our state's road agencies have taken progressive steps to try to balance public safety with reduced salt usage."
Per the Wisconsin DOT at www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/truck/docs/whenisitfrozen.pdf, "During spring, thawing begins at the pavement surface and moves downward. This can mean that frost under the pavement surface may still extend down to a depth of 48-72 inches, while thawing of the top 18-20 inches under the pavement has occurred; this is the condition that creates so many problems with the pavement. As the top 18-20 inches begin to thaw the moisture cannot drain downward due to the frozen soil below. This trapped moisture causes the soil in this depth to act like a "sponge" and thus allows the bituminous pavements to move up and down due to vehicle weights traveling on the pavement surface. The pavement can be weakened by this continuous oscillating movement and thus begin to crack and break down. For this reason, spring seasonal weight restrictions are imposed on state highways from approximately March 10th through May 10th (35-plus years average dates)."
These spring weight restrictions which are about to go into effect, greatly reduce road damage during this vulnerable period. Our nation's southern roads are generally in much better condition than ours largely because they don't have the spring thaw or the salt issue.
Michigan's gas tax is 18.7 cents per gallon (cpg) plus 20.7 cpg state Sales tax plus 18.4 cpg Federal for a total of 57.8 cpg, which is among the highest in the nation. Total state tax could go down 6 cpg if Governor Snyder's reforms to eliminate the 6 percent state sales tax on gas and raise the gas tax from 18.7 cpg to 33 cpg (among other reforms) is implemented.
Only about 11 cpg of the 18.7 cpg state gas tax goes to maintain our highways and bridges.
Michigan should join 30 other states that mandate state gas taxes be spent on roads and bridges. The 20.7 cpg state sales taxes go towards schools and revenue sharing and none goes towards roads. The distribution of the transportation dollars is governed by Act 51 of 1951, which is a very complicated formula. Wisconsin's gas tax is 30.9 cpg plus 2 cpg state sales taxes plus 18.4 cpg federal for a total of 51.3 cpg, so they spend much more than us (about one-third) to maintain their roads.
Total Michigan diesel tax is 62.3 cpg and Wisconsin is 57.3 which means that trucks are paying more per gallon than cars. That's in addition to 6 percent state tax plus 12 percent federal tax on the purchase of a new truck. Sixty percent of federal gas tax revenue goes to highways and bridges and the remainder is spent on programs such as repairing lighthouses, paving bike paths and building museums.
Considering that the typical 11-axle truck gets between 3-4 mpg and the typical 18 wheeler gets 6-7 mpg it's fair to say that these trucks are already paying more than their fair share. And besides, we all know that it's the consumer that ultimately pays all business taxes anyway.