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Wed Feb 15, 2012, 02:26 PM

Riding Michiganís roads to ruin - Jack Lessenberry

Riding Michiganís roads to ruin
As stateís infrastructure crumbles, Lansingís yahoos balk at funding road repair
By Jack Lessenberry

Last weekend, best-selling author Jeff Zaslow was driving home to West Bloomfield from a book-signing event in Petoskey. He never got very far. He apparently hit a patch of ice, and went into the path of a tractor-trailer. I knew him only very slightly, but he was, by all accounts, a very decent man. A few hours later I was on the same stretch of road. We also hit unsuspected ice, and went sailing into the oncoming lane. Except, fortunately, nobody was coming.

Had this happened two minutes later, we would have been in the path of a giant truck hauling propane. The road was littered with wrecks, and at one point near Kalkaska, six ambulances rushed by with sirens wailing. This was white-knuckle stuff of the worst kind.

Later, I mentioned this to Mark Dobias, an irreverent and highly skilled lawyer who defends clients all across Michigan's north country. "Never underestimate the capriciousness of northern Michigan Roads and big trucks in the winter. I know this stretch well. Never assume that a road is plowed, salted or sanded in these days of reduced manpower. No matter what the man says."

Naturally, I don't know if Zaslow would have survived or I would have had an easier time if the roads had been better maintained. It wasn't a good day to be driving, period.

What I do know is that Michigan roads are in bad shape and getting worse. Officially, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) says almost 90 percent of our roads are in good or fair condition. To anyone who drives a lot around Detroit, that may seem a trifle overoptimistic. But things may soon get worse, fast.


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