Nov. 19 2010 12:00 AM

Less federal funding will mean fewer orange construction barrels in Lansing next year

Friday, Nov. 19 — Motorists in Lansing may be relieved to know that the Public Service Department is scaling back on road construction projects in 2011 due to budgetary constraints.

That will mean fewer lane closures and orange traffic barrels, but also a miffed public services director.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Public Services Director Chad Gamble said Thursday after giving an update on the city’s progress on the Combined Sewer Overflow project, which includes road reconstruction.

While motorists sometimes see road construction as a pain in the butt, Gamble sees it as car-saving (less wear and tear from crummy roads) and job creating.

The Public Services Department oversaw four-and-a-half miles of road upgrades within the city this year. For 2011, three miles will either be resurfaced or reconstructed, including Kalamazoo Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Larch Street, Pennsylvania between Miller Road and Cedar Street, Clippert Street between Saginaw Street and Kalamazoo and Turner Street between Sheridan Road and Carrier Street.

The scale-back is a result of less federal money for road construction projects anticipated for 2011, which was not compensated with a state gas tax hike. Gamble blames that outdated State Road Tax, which is 19 cents per gallon, for the funding drop. He says it needs to be increased.

“That hasn’t changed since 1998,” Gamble said, who added it could be hiked up a bit without many knowing.

“That’s the real challenge and the backdrop of this issue,” he said. “I understand about raising taxes in times like this. You could increase the gas tax by 5 cents and people wouldn’t even notice it.”

Gamble estimates that could generate another $40 million for the state’s roads in a year.

“That’s a dedicated funding source and will put people back to work,” he said. “And it will lessen the unfortunate damage to people’s vehicles.”

Michigan is considered a “donor state,” because money collected from the federal gas tax (about 18 cents per gallon) goes back to the federal government and is dispersed throughout the country. Michigan receives about 94 percent of what it contributes.

Gas taxes throughout the country range from 7.5 cents per gallon to 37.5 cents per gallon, according to michigangasprices.com, a website that tracks such information nationwide.