MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Responsibility for Michigan's Roads
A Proposal for Jurisdictional Reform
When Governor Engler introduced Build Michigan II on May 8, 1997, part
of his proposal included the state assumption of responsibility for the
entire system of "federal-aid" roads in Michigan. This would have
involved adding approximately 23,500 miles to the 9,600 miles of road currently
under state jurisdiction. This particular jurisdictional reform was not
enacted by the state legislature. However, the proposal generated much useful
debate about the relative roles of the state, counties and cities(1) in answering the question, "Who should have
responsibility for which roads?"
The essence of Governor Engler's proposal is that the state should have
responsibility for the highest level of roads. He has described these as
roads which "support the economy -- a backbone system of roads that
allow people to get to work and that get raw materials to factories and
products to market." Historically, the Michigan Department of Transportation
(MDOT) has given these roads the label "state trunkline" or simply,
trunkline. One dictionary defines the word trunkline as a "major, long-distance,
transportation line." Many roads currently on the state trunkline system
obviously meet this definition. Some examples are the Interstate and other
freeways; U.S. highways 2, 10, and 12; and state, M-routes 28 and 46.
There have been major changes in the patterns of workplace and residential
development since these highways were built. Workers no longer commute to
a central city location from homes a relatively short distance away. Instead,
commuting distances have increased dramatically and offices, factories and
distribution centers have spread out into suburban and rural land areas.
Factories no longer maintain huge inventories of parts on their premises;
rather, they rely upon "just-in-time" delivery of parts from suppliers
in dispersed locations.
In order to better serve these patterns of development, the state system
needs to be expanded beyond its current, relatively sparse coverage. A comparison
to other states reinforces this recommendation. If all fifty states are
ranked according to percentage of state-owned roads versus all public roads
in the state, Michigan is close to the bottom, at 48th. Michigan has approximately
119,000 miles of public road, of which 9,600 miles are current state trunkline.
Thus, eight percent of Michigan's roads are state-owned, well below the
national average of 23 %.
Goals for the Proposal
This proposal aims to identify precisely those portions of the current
highway, roads, and streets which serve high-level, economic purposes for
either the state as a whole or for a region of the state. Once identified,
these roads will be considered for transfer to state jurisdiction. Roads
which do not serve such a high-level, economic purpose could be said to
serve local needs. Such roads will remain under local jurisdiction. Moreover,
this review will reveal certain roads which are currently on the state trunkline
system but which no longer serve a statewide or regional purpose. These
roads will be considered for transfer to local jurisdiction, either at the
county or the city level, depending upon location.
This jurisdictional reform will result in a seamless network of the most
economically important roads, all under state responsibility. The benefits
of this arrangement include the "economies of scale" that can
be applied to administering and maintaining the system, and the ability
to use a systematic approach to scheduling improvements.
Jurisdictional reform is not intended to eliminate all changes in jurisdiction
that occur at "invisible" or "artificial" boundaries.
There will always be roads which remain under county jurisdiction and which
cross from one county into another. In these cases, jurisdiction will change
at the county line. There will also remain county roads which cross city
limits -- the jurisdiction of these roads may or may not change at the city
limit to city streets.
In addition, jurisdictional changes along the same road will not necessarily
be eliminated by this proposal. Besides crossing invisible boundaries, a
road may have a differing function along its entire length. Anyone who has
driven county roads extensively can think of an example such as the following:
the same road covers the length of the whole county, but has varying development
and traffic levels at different points. Such a road may serve a high-level,
economic purpose for only part of its length. For this segment, such a road
may function as part of a route, when combined with other high-level roads
or road segments. If county or city road segments combine to form a high-level
route, just those segments may be considered for transfer to the state system.
There is another important consideration. The density of development
varies considerably throughout Michigan, with the heaviest concentration
existing in the southeast portion of the lower peninsula. Yet, there has
always been a level of geographic equity in the establishment of state trunkline
routes. The goal has been to provide everyone with reasonable access to
a state trunkline, regardless of where they live. This goal should be maintained.
As a result of this process, the definition of "reasonable access"
may change, more or less proportionately, for everyone in Michigan.
The methodology for conducting this rationalization of Michigan's highway
system and making appropriate jurisdictional reforms consists of local review
of the enclosed preliminary map, a locally written response to the map,
and a process for finding consensus between the state and local agencies
regarding jurisdictional reform.
The Enclosed Map
It is said that "a picture is worth a thousand words." For
the purposes of this proposal, this could be paraphrased as "a map
may be worth more than a thousand words." The map which accompanies
this paper needs some words of explanation. However, it provides examples
of all or most of the types of routes discussed above. These are shown for
an area with which you are familiar. The concepts discussed here are more
relevant when examined in the context of the roads which you drive every
The map distinguishes between federal-aid eligibility and the proposed
jurisdictional system. The map legend shows two categories of current state
trunkline: bright pink represents routes which appear to serve a statewide
or regional purpose, and light orange shows routes that may have a local
function. There are three colors to represent jurisdictionally local(2) (county/city) routes. Both purple and blue
routes are eligible for federal-aid. Federal-aid eligibility is based upon
a federal functional classification system. Federal-aid roads vary considerably
in their characteristics; they do not all function at the same level. For
this reason, the federal-aid roads under county or city jurisdiction are
differentiated into two types. The routes shown in purple have been tentatively
identified as "Commercial Backbone Routes." These routes appear
to serve a more high-level, economic purpose on at least a regional basis.
The blue routes, on the other hand, appear to serve more localized needs.
The gray routes also appear to have a predominantly local function, in that
they do not have a high enough federal classification to be eligible for
Selecting the Commercial Backbone Routes
The primary purpose of the mapping category, "Commercial Backbone
Route," is to provide a starting point for discussions about jurisdictional
reform. These routes were selected according to the criteria given below.
The criteria themselves were chosen in order to produce an expansion of
the state trunkline system which would meet the goals of Build Michigan
II. Yet, there is still a decision to be made as to whether or not a "purple
route" really meets these criteria and serves a higher level rather
than a local function. The county or city with current jurisdiction over
the purple route will make that decision.
Criteria for Commercial Backbone Routes
(1) Routes should be among the heaviest
traveled in the county.
(2) Routes should carry a relatively high
percentage of commercial travel.
(3) Where possible, routes should avoid
exclusively residential areas.
(4) Routes should form a connected system
without "stubs," unless stubs are dictated by geographical features
or are National Highway System Intermodal Connectors.
(5) Routes should be spaced in a manner
consistent with density of development and geographical features.
(6) Where possible, routes should be direct,
without sharp angles or curves which pose problems for commercial traffic.
The word "commercial" is used on the maps and throughout this
discussion in order to provide a short-cut way of saying "a route which
serves a high-level, economic purpose for either the state as a whole or
for a region of the state." However, this phrasing also relates to
a previous transportation project, the development of a Secondary Commercial
Network, or SCN. The SCN has been in development
for several years. It incorporates a set of county roads and city streets
which have already been improved to the all season standard, often with
funding from the Transportation Economic Development program. In addition,
it identifies routes and route segments which should eventually become all
season in order to form a connected network. At the time of writing, thirty-one
county road commissions had submitted information to the department identifying
their preliminary SCN. When a road is improved to the all season
standard, it is capable of carrying truck traffic year-round, without seasonal
load restrictions. The ability to serve truck traffic is a prime indicator
that a route serves a high-level, economic purpose.
I. Review the enclosed map for general understanding.
II. Identify which roads on the map are under your county's or city's
III. Where roads or streets under "your" jurisdiction are shown
in purple ("Commercial Backbone Routes"), determine whether you
agree that this route meets the criteria given above.
V. If you agree that a route meets the Commercial Backbone Route criteria,
determine whether you would recommend its transfer to the state trunkline
V. If you do not agree that the route meets the Commercial Backbone Route
criteria and/or if you would not recommend its transfer to the state trunkline
system, write down your reasons.
Regarding the Commercial Backbone Route criteria, the spacing criterion
(item #5) had the most subjective application during the preliminary selection
process. If you find that a route appears to meet none of the other criteria
and you would not recommend its transfer to the state trunkline system,
indicate this with a statement such as, "Little or no commercial use;
adequate spacing supplied by other routes."
VI. Identify additional routes under your jurisdiction as follows:
A. The route is shown in blue or gray on the map.
B. You can demonstrate that it meets one or more of the Commercial Backbone
C. You would recommend that this route be transferred to the state trunkline
Where such routes exist, mark their location on the enclosed map, write
down the name(s) of the streets and roads which make up the route, and briefly
explain why the route meets the Commercial Backbone Route criteria.
VII. Identify any "possible local function" trunkline or orange
roads on your map.
VIII. If the orange road lies within your city limits or county boundary,
consider whether it has a high-level, economic function (Commercial Backbone
Route criteria) or a local function. Note whether all or part of the orange
road is needed to provide continuity with other high-level routes, such
as "statewide/regional function" trunkline or commercial routes.
Write down your determination.
IX. If your determination regarding an orange road is "local,"
would you recommend transfer of this route from the state to your jurisdiction?
Write down your response.
X. You may also review roads for correct federal-aid designation. For
example, does a gray route function at a higher level than that of merely
providing access to property? If so, it may qualify to be a blue or even
a purple route. On the other hand, a blue route may actually have only a
local function or it may represent a "future" route for which
construction is no longer planned. In such cases, the route should either
be changed to a gray route or deleted from the map altogether. Please see
the Additional Resources section at the end of this paper for more information
about federal-aid designations.
XI. Prepare a response to this proposal as soon as possible, but no later
than November 30, 1997. Include the following in your response:
A. A list and/or a marked up map which shows both the routes which you
agree should be transferred to state jurisdiction and those purple or orange
routes which you agree should remain under or be transferred to your jurisdiction.
B. A brief written explanation for either adding or deleting routes to
the routes suggested for transfer to the state trunkline system (i.e., adding
or deleting "purple" routes).
C. A brief written explanation regarding your suggested jurisdiction
for any orange roads shown on your map (i.e., whether they should remain
on the state trunkline system or be transferred to your jurisdiction).
XII. Your response will be reviewed by the department for consistency
with the criteria, particularly with respect to system continuity and connectivity.
XIII. If there is a lack of consensus between your response and the department's
analysis, we will begin to meet with each agency involved to reconcile our
technical differences. This process will begin as soon as possible once
we have received local area analyses.
XIV. The outcome of this jurisdictional review and the subsequent discussions
will provide the basis for moving ahead with the transfer process as identified
in Act 51, as amended.
If you have questions or comments regarding the procedure outlined above,
we have a toll-free "Help Desk" number: 1-888-898-ROAD (1-888-898-7623).
You may also call the staff assigned to the Help Desk directly: Terry Eldred
at (517) 373-2221 or Susan Berquist at (517) 335-2929. These numbers will
be available 24 hours per day (voicemail after regular business hours).
Additional copies of the enclosed map are available upon request. Other
types of maps are also available, such as Act 51 (shows current jurisdictions),
National Functional Classification, and Rural Task Force maps. Please call
Ms. Susan Berquist at (517) 335-2929 for maps and map information.
Ms. Berquist can also answer any questions you may have about the federal-aid
designations of roads in your area. As noted earlier in this paper, the
federal-aid eligibility of roads is dependent upon their National Functional
Classification. This system is administered by MDOT in accordance with federal
criteria and guidelines. Changes to this system require approval by the
Federal Highway Administration.
Send marked up maps plus any additional comments and questions you may
have to either Mr. Eldred or Ms. Berquist at the following address:
Statewide Planning Section
State Transportation Building
425 West Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30050
Lansing, Michigan 48909
1. The word "city" or "cities"
will be used as convenient shorthand throughout this paper to signify: incorporated
city or village.
2. There are two ways in which the word local is used:
either to denote jurisdiction -- distinguishing county and city roads (local)
from state roads -- or to characterize how a road under any current jurisdiction