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Outgoing MDOT director talks gubernatorial candidates' plans for fixing the roads

Potholes on a road in Ann Arbor.
Daniel Hensel
Michigan Radio
Kirk Steudle is retiring from the Michigan Department of Transportation after 13 years as director. But before he left the job, he offered some comments on what Michigan's next government can do to fix the state's roads.

Outgoing director of the Michigan Department of Transportation Kirk Steudle thinks that neither of Michigan's major-party candidates for governor has a solid plan for fixing the roads.

Steudle says Republican candidate Bill Schuette's idea of auditing MDOT to find extra cash has been done before – many times -- and it's never really been successful.

In fact, he says that in the last three years, M-DOT has undergone 26 audits in 23 different areas of the department.

"They think they're gonna find a mountain of cash sitting somewhere that, you know, someone is not using appropriately... it's not there."

Steudle thinks Democratic candidate Gretchen Whitmer's idea of creating an infrastructure bank to fund state and municipal road projects is a better one. Whitmer has made “fixing the damn roads” a major policy point during her campaign for governor.

But there's already a state infrastructure bank for local governments to borrow from, and Steudle says it hasn't been a great solution to road funding problems so far. It’s a good concept, he says, but there are some pitfalls.

“The issue is, when you take out a loan, you've got to pay it back,” he says. “And what communities have said is they don't really want a loan. They want a grant, because they don't have the money to pay it back.”

Steudle also warns against believing candidates when they say they want to get more money from the federal government. He says there simply isn’t a pile of money sitting in Washington that we can tap into.

The only way to really improve our roads, Steudle says, is to pay for them. But how we do that is up to the legislature.

“It really comes down to one fundamental thing. If we want good roads, we have to pay for them.”

He says lawmakers want to continue to use gas taxes and registration fees or move money from the general fund. Either way, they’ll need to make adjustments accordingly.  

Steudle was a guest on Stateside on Wednesday, which happened to be his last day as MDOT director after nearly 13 years on the job. He says his favorite roads in Michigan are the Tunnel of Trees. As a close runner-up, he says “who could argue with M-22?”

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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