The State of Roads

County roads stripe Michigan’s vast land from the southern border with Ohio, Indiana and Illinois to the northern tip of the Upper Peninsula. They carry millions of people daily to work, school, stores and tourist destinations, and are vital to maintaining a vibrant Michigan economy.

County road agencies are responsible for maintaining, plowing, preserving and reconstructing those 90,000 miles of county roads, along with 5,700 local bridges. It is a monumental task as a decades-long shortfall in appropriate funding has left most roads and bridges eligible in either “fair” or “poor” condition.

But there is hope. As the latest road construction season begins to draw to a close, county road agencies are bolstered by a 2015 bill passed by the Legislature that calls for $1.2 billion in funding by 2021. Not all of those dollars are allocated to county road agencies and the $1.2 billion figure is about half of what industry experts suggest is needed to improve roads. Nonetheless, it will help stem the declining condition of roads throughout the state.

Road agencies also received some unexpected revenue in the form of $175 million in surplus General Fund dollars that the governor and Legislature allocated to roads in April 2018. An additional one-time $300 million has been added to the 2019 state transportation budget, some of it targeted to county roads and bridge.

It is clear the state of Michigan roads has the attention of lawmakers, but it’s only the beginning of turning “fair” and “poor” roads to “good” again.

County Road Investment Plan

The County Road Association (CRA) of Michigan has released the Michigan County Road Investment Plan, which provides a realistic picture for restoring the 75% of Michigan roads and 52% of bridges under county jurisdiction.

The Michigan County Road Investment Plan of 2021 concluded:

  • The statewide target investment for the 90,000-mile, 5,700-bridge local network is $3.6 billion annually.
  • Of that total, $1.7 billion is already directed to county roads through FY 2019, including legislatively-appropriated income tax dollars and increased annual gas tax and vehicle registration fees through FY 2019. This means a $1.8 billion additional annual investment is required to achieve county road goals.

CRA has established the same restoration goal for county roads as the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is utilizing:

    • 90% good/fair for federal aid-eligible roads in 10 years. These roads currently have an average rating of 52% good/fair across all counties.
    • 60% good/fair for local, nonfederal aid-eligible roads in 10 years. These roads currently have an average rating of 46% across all counties.

Click here to read the full 2021 County Road Investment Plan.

Click here to read the full 2019 County Road Investment Plan.

Road Funds by County

The primary source of revenue to county road agencies comes from the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF). All state fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees and other transportation-related fees are deposited into the MTF and distributed according to Public Act 51.

The Michigan Department of Transportation issues Annual Reports of MTF distributions that clearly show where revenue comes from and how it’s distributed.

Links to Michigan Transportation Fund Annual Reports:


Managing Our Road Assets

Virtually all county road agencies follow asset management principles to prioritize resources for roads under their jurisdiction. The challenge is moving away from the band-aid approach to a more holistic solution that is not a “worst-first” priority.

Leading the way in asset management, and tracking the condition of Michigan roads, is the Transportation Asset Management Council. The Council was established by the Michigan Legislature in 2002 to provide asset management tools, measurement dashboards and best practices for Michigan road agencies. The Council has 12 voting members from Michigan’s various transportation management sectors, including two who represent county road agencies.

The TAMC produces interesting “at-a-glance” dashboard charts that show pavement and bridge conditions by county; revenue and expenditures for each county road agency; and trend data including traffic counts and traffic crashes.

Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council

Efficiencies on Roads

Michigan is not just the birthplace of the mass-produced automobile! It’s also the place where locally-controlled county road agencies gave birth to the modern road-building industry.

The first mile of concrete road, the first center-line painter, the first snow plow and the first below-grade super highway were all innovations of Michigan’s county road agencies.

County road agencies continue to be innovative through advances in modern technology and engineering techniques. Innovations and efficiencies, both large and small, have allowed county road agencies to do more with less.