MDOT launches pilot project to bundle bridge repair work

By: - March 3, 2022 2:13 pm

Bridge at 33 Mile Road over East Branch Coon Creek is among the bridges in the Pilot Bridge Bundling Project. (Michigan Department of Transportation)

The Michigan Department of Transportation launched a pilot program Monday to bundle bridge repair projects together, which officials say makes the projects more cost-effective.

Bridge bundling combines several bridge locations into a single contract, which MDOT says streamlines coordination and permitting and increases economies of scale.

Nineteen bridges owned by local agencies around the state are included in the initial round of the pilot program.

”The scope of work for these bridges is superstructure replacement, which includes full removal and replacement of the bridge deck and supporting beams,” said MDOT Chief Bridge Engineer Matt Chynoweth. “Under the pilot program, all bridges will be rebuilt this year, beginning in March. The contract requirements call for them to be finished in 60 or 90 days.” 

Members of the public can track the projects through a new online dashboard that will show percent completion, detour routes and other information.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also announced Tuesday a $62 million investment to rebuild 12.5 miles of pavement on US-127 in Ingham County, running from the Jackson County line to M-36 (Cedar Street), between March and the fall of 2025, as well as rehabilitating 10 structures, improving drainage and installing guardrails.

Whitmer said the project, which is part of her Rebuilding Michigan program, will support 800 jobs.

“As construction season quickly approaches, we have an opportunity to make historic investments to fix a record number of roads and bridges across the state,” said Whitmer. “Since 2019, we’ve repaired, rebuilt, or rehabilitated 13,198 lane miles of road and 903 bridges in every region of the state, supporting nearly 82,000 jobs. Michigan is fixing the roads with the right mix and materials, so they stay fixed, and creating tens of thousands of good-paying, skilled trades jobs along the way.”

President Joe Biden touted the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law during his State of the Union address Tuesday.

“America used to have the best roads, bridges and airports on Earth,” Biden said. “And now our infrastructure is ranked 13th in the world. We won’t be able to compete for the jobs of the 21st century if we don’t fix it…

“Tonight, I’m announcing that, this year, we will start fixing over 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges in disrepair,” Biden said.

Those federal funds have to be allocated by the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature, which is still working through the budgeting process.

Lance Binoniemi, the vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, said while testifying to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation that the state needs a long-term plan to sustain road systems.

“We traditionally, especially when it comes to transportation funding, wait for a crisis to hit rather than planning ahead,” Binoniemi said. “We need a long-term solution, sustainable within this state, so we can stop having these conversations and these piecemeal infrastructure investments.”

After Whitmer’s proposed gas tax hike failed to gain support in the Michigan Legislature, the governor announced $3.5 billion in bonds to fund road repairs.

“We believe that bonding is a very fiscally responsible thing to do when it comes to your infrastructure,” Binoniemi said. “By investing $1 in your good and fair condition roads and bridges, you are saving $6 to $14 on reconstruction and rehabilitation costs for those same infrastructure. I think that’s important, because I believe that the very low, unprecedented level of interest that we’re paying on the bonds … is a lot less expensive than waiting and doing nothing and having our infrastructure go into poor condition on top of inflationary costs that, every year we go, seem to increase.”

State Rep. Scott VanSingel (R-Grant), the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, said that one of his goals for this budget cycle is to cashflow projects that MDOT had planned to issue additional waves of bonding for.

“They put plans together, they’ve come up with a list of projects and what those bonds would go for, and the department seems to be open to not bonding if we can replace that with cash, which I think is a good attempt to do that,” VanSingel said.

William Hamilton, an analyst for the House Fiscal Agency, said that the additional federal revenue may impact their future bonding plans.

“I think when they sell bonds, they evaluate a whole number of different factors, including the pavement decay experienced, the bond market, and in this case, available revenue, so this may affect their bonding decision or how much to go for,” Hamilton said. “When they look at their pavement decay chart, every year, the asset is declining by some percentage. So, I think they do a calculation of the benefit of bonding and fixing that pavement today, as opposed to letting that decay carry forward into the year.”

Under Act 51, 75% of the federal funding for roads will be distributed to MDOT for state roads, while the remaining 25% is distributed across more than 600 local road agencies.

For bridges, 85% of funds will go to MDOT, while 15% go to the more than 600 local road agencies.

Ed Noyola, deputy director of the County Road Association, said in testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, that the formula can be changed, but said it shouldn’t be completely eliminated.

“A lot of people have been talking about Act 51 being antiquated and needing to be thrown out. We don’t feel like you should be throwing out the baby with the bathwater here,” Noyola said. “Act 51 has been amended over 300 times, and this distribution … has been amended five times. So, it’s been keeping pace with different programs, adding programs, deleting programs. It’s keeping pace. So, to say that it’s antiquated and needs to be rewritten, I don’t agree with it, we don’t agree with it, not in the least.”

Denise Donohue, the director of the CRA, said that even after federal aid gets distributed to local agencies, 70% of county roads are ineligible for federal aid.

“Not to appear unappreciative of the federal funding, we are, but we also need to put in perspective that there’s still a job here that needs to be done with state funding for that 70% of the system that is not eligible for federal aid,” Donohue said.

Whitmer is working to meet her biggest campaign pledge, to “fix the damn roads,” before she faces re-election in November.

Whitmer signed an executive directive Wednesday directing MDOT to speed up pothole repairs on state trunkline highways by using all available resources, including overtime pay and contracted services.

“Dealing with car damage from driving over potholes while on your way to work or school is frustrating for every Michigander. No family should have to spend their hard-earned money on repairing a flat tire or a broken axle caused by these potholes,” said Whitmer. “That’s why I’m directing the state transportation department to speed up pothole repairs. We’re kicking this into overdrive, using overtime pay and contractors to get the job done, while we continue broader improvement projects across the state.”


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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a reporting intern with the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.