Why Are Michigan Roads So Bad? 10 Things To Know

The past month has seen roads in Michigan deteriorate to never before seen conditions.  Potholes and cracks are everywhere.  The freeze and thaw cycle has been especially bad this year, turning many roads to near gravel. But, Michigan isn’t the only state with this weather.  So, why are the roads so bad?  The answer isn’t as simple as any one thing.  Here are ten things to know about why Michigan roads are so bad.

Taxes and Spending

  1. Michigan drivers pay a lot in fuel taxes.  Michigan is one of the top five states in terms of taxes collected at the pump.  This infuriates a lot of drivers.  Common sense tells you that higher taxes should mean better roads.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way.  So why?
  2. Michigan doesn’t allocate sales tax at the pump to roads. Most states assign all taxes collected at the pump toward roads.  Michigan only allocates the fuel taxes specifically toward roads.  The sales tax portion goes to the general fund.  This means our spending levels are among the lowest in the nation per capita.
  3. Voters said no when given a chance to correct this.  A few years, it was put before voters to allocate the sales tax on gas toward roads.  This would have infused a ton more money into the roads.  But, it required an increase in the sales tax rate, which required it be put before voters.  They said no.  I wonder how many regret this decision now.


  1. Road construction isn’t the problem.  Many roads in Michigan are hard pressed to last 25 year.  Many reason that they aren’t building the roads well. In fact, roads are built to the same standards as in surrounding states.
  2. Preventative maintenance is what’s missing.  If roads were taken care of here as they are in other states, people would be very perplexed.  See, we only start giving attention to a road after cracks and potholes appear. In fact, attention should be given to a road before any of these things happen. In other states, roads are repaved before they appear to need this done.  This protects the underlying road, which is the key to longevity.  If you keep the base road in good shape, it can last 50 years or more.
Image from morguefile courtesy of DarkSinistar.

Other Issues

  1. Weight limits.  Michigan allows heavy trucks to travel the roads with limits twice as high as most states.  Some say that this hurts roads.  Others on the opposite side of the fence argue that it doesn’t matter, since more axles are required to spread the load.  I think we should be in line with the surrounding states, but lobbyists have this one locked up.
  2. Lots of barely used roads.  Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a beautiful place. There are a lot of roads there to travel around.  Many of them are barely used, but require attention nonetheless.  A higher percentage of funding per car traveled goes to these roads than to the roads in the population centers.  Many such roads have actually been returned to gravel roads, but there’s still a large disparity here.

The Future of Michigan Roads

  1. Roads have more funding coming.  A couple of years ago, lawmakers increased the gas tax and also increased registration fees.  This was the first major increase to road funding in over 20 years.  This will dramatically increase spending on roads.  It also will increase the taxes along with inflation, something that the increase 20 years ago failed to do.  This should help us from falling behind again.
  2. It’s going to take time.  Many voters are unhappy since the funding increase went into place a couple of years ago, yet the roads seem to be worse than ever.  The harsh fact is that the improvements will take time.  The funding shortages toward roads have been years, even decades, in the making.  It is going to take just as long to correct this.

The bottom line is that roads are awful but at least help is on the way.  It can’t come soon enough.  We’ll likely have to endure at least a few more spring seasons of bad roads, which is when potholes hit.  Hopefully, momentum will build and roads will improve over time.  Good roads in Michigan is something I hope to see in my lifetime!

Readers, how are roads where you are?  Does your state adequately fund road construction and maintenance? 

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4 thoughts on “Why Are Michigan Roads So Bad? 10 Things To Know

  1. I too am a Michigander & I agree our roads are horrible. Two comments to your article –
    #1 – Why would the sales tax rate have to be increased in order to allocate the sales tax collected at the pump to road repairs?
    #2 – I believe our higher weight limits aren’t being adhered to since the weigh stations are never open resulting in even heavier loads going over the road. When was the last time you saw one actually open? It was probably a cost cutting measure, but if they were manned part-time in some sort of rotating schedule, maybe the fines/fees generated by non-compliant trucks would cause better compliance which would only be good for the roads.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      In response:

      1) Right now only a small portion of sales tax monies collected at the pump goes back into the transportation budget. Most goes toward the general fund, so if you took that and put it toward transportation, it would leave a sizeable hole of money that gets budgeted for the general fund. The increase in sales tax would have patched that.

      2) I have seen the weigh stations open once in a great while. We recently drove down to Ohio and they did have them open. I’m pretty sure they do open them during pothole season when the higher weights would likely cause more excessive damage to the roads than during other times of the year. But you’re right, it is a very rare occasion.

  2. Delaware here. Given my twitter post last night that I’ve blown two ties on potholes in two weeks you can guess where we are at. Given in my nearly twenty years of driving I’ve never blown a tire before last month that’s saying something. The pot holes were two miles from each other.
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