Marquette wants regional transportation solution

Marquette County needs a regional transportation solution. This is a long-standing challenge for which the city of Marquette, Marquette County, Marquette Township, Negaunee Township, Northern Michigan University and the Marquette County Road Commission have developed a framework for moving forward. A special funding request was submitted to the state legislature in July and has yet to receive action.

The framework addresses what many of us view as the inevitable consequences of the success of our economy. Steps must be taken now to protect infrastructure in a manner that preserves balance between our public safety, health, welfare and quality of life. This common goal is the subject of several joint government meetings and discussion with road users who support the vitality of our collective economy.

Local businesses benefit from growth in demand and this trend is expected to continue. The demands of such growth are quite different than what might have previously been routine. For forestry industries, the pace of growth may be steady, while for others, expansion progresses faster than the capacity of local communities to respond.

More than 8,600 acres in Marquette County have been permitted for development via 33 leases held by five different mining interests. Recently, sand and gravel mining has expanded, with operators broadening or looking to start operations in Powell, Marquette and Negaunee townships. All indicators predict these trends will continue.

The regional framework provides a cooperative solution for short- and long-term needs. It’s a clear statement that all parties understand the cost of regional growth cannot be borne by any single neighbor, and that balancing growth requires multiple interlocking components.

We recognize communities might tolerate short-term impacts while long-term solutions are under way but lacking a long-term outcome, results in short-term compromises becoming sacrifices to long-term problems.

The cost of the framework, $20-30 million, will need to be borne fairly by all parties. Unfortunately, at present this is problematic. The federal government has no dedicated resources that address our regional needs.

Our request to the state has not been funded. Local jurisdictions have been left to seek arrangements with private parties and those are few and far between.

The city published, on its website, a frequently asked questions paper that explains how traffic costs are borne by taxpayers. Whereas county and township roads are typically funded by Michigan transportation taxes, city roads are paid primarily through local property taxes. The city’s road budget is $4.7 million with $3.1 million provided by local sources, and only $1.6 million from state transportation funds.

The city annually approves a six-year capital improvement plan, and per the city charter no changes may be made during the same year as proposed. This is a safeguard to ensure that the plan is within budget.

The regional framework identifies several city road improvements, plus construction of a critically-needed alternative route to relieve congestion. Short-term costs are estimated to be approximately $10 million, just to ensure roads aren’t degraded, or that water pipes, sewers, and other infrastructure isn’t destroyed as a result of use.

Increased costs from haul traffic on Sugarloaf Avenue and Wright Street will be borne directly by city taxpayers. That doesn’t include other mitigation, such as sound dampening, aesthetics, vibration control, etc., things residents might forgo knowing a long-term solution is on the way.

The city cannot absorb this cost, has received no other government funding, and very limited private offers. As a result, options are few and most choices involve public health, safety and welfare concerns; raising property taxes to a level not allowed by the state constitution; or bankrupting the city and the risk of emergency financial management.

Of course, doing nothing ensures that likely, these negative consequences will come to pass.

Trucks are a critical component of our local economy. Unregulated use of city roads is creating public health, safety and quality of life concerns.

The city is fortunate to have neighbors who seek collaborative solutions, and private partners willing to offer views on how best to address this challenge.

Any solution will require a sustainable and equitable method to pay for improvements identified in the regional framework. The city remains committed to seeking a practical solution supporting mutual plans and goals.

Editor’s note: Robert Niemi is mayor of the city of Marquette.