Over the past two decades, county road agencies have been challenged to maintain roads with inadequate funds.  Between 1997 and 2015, there were no increases in state road funding which is the Road Commission’s primary source of revenue. During the years of stagnant funding, no adjustments were made to the fuel tax revenue due to inflation or to balance the reduction of gas tax due to cars’ increased fuel efficiently. When coupled with impacts of the economic recession, WCRC was forced to cut back services and many roads fell into poor condition.

Only recently has the state legislature acted to increase road funding, but the funding will not be fully distributed until 2021. While this new revenue is welcomed, it is still not enough to bring WCRC’s road network into “good” condition.  To learn more about the state’s road funding package, click here.

How does WCRC fund road improvements?

WCRC typically draws from five main funding sources to improve roads which are described in greater detail below. There are many more sources of funding available under limited circumstances. Certain types of funding can only be spent on specific projects, and unpredictable events (such as bad winters) can use up funding that could have been spent on summer road maintenance and construction.

The Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF)

WCRC’s largest source of revenue comes from the state, primarily from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. The revenue generated from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees is placed into the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) and the funds are distributed by formula to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), counties/county road commissions, cities, and villages. WCRC received approximately $18 million in MTF funds in 2015.

Federal & State Grants

Another source of funding is federal and state grants. WCRC must apply for grants with a certain project in mind. There are different grants for specific types of projects. Examples include bridge replacements, congestion mitigation, guardrail and intersection safety. Often, federal and state grants require a “match” – meaning that if WCRC can pay 50% of a project’s total cost, the grant will cover the remaining costs.

Local Millages

A millage is a property tax assessed in mills per dollar. For example, a 0.5 mill is equivalent to a $50 annual tax for every $100,000 in taxable value on a property. One of the benefits of a millage is that the funding is raised locally and stays local. Residents will see road improvements the summer following their winter tax bill.

In 2015 and 2016, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted to levy a countywide road millage using Public Act 283 (P.A. 238) which generated an additional $7.2 million per year for road improvements. In November 2016, Washtenaw County voters approved a four-year road millage for the same amount as P.A. 283.

Contributions from Townships

While state and federal funds provide a majority of WCRC’s revenue, these funds frequently go towards the improvement of primary roads, not local roads.  The amount of state funding allocated towards local roads is often only enough to fund winter maintenance and pothole patching. If WCRC wants to make a local road improvement beyond routine maintenance (such as a bridge replacement or road resurfacing), the project’s funding must be matched by a source other than WCRC, typically a township.

Local roads makeup 64% of WCRC’s road network (over 1,000 miles), including most subdivision roads. Understanding that there is simply not enough funding to improve the County’s local roads, WCRC has established a Local Road Matching Program. Annually, WCRC offers each township matching funds to promote partnership and encourage investment in local roads, but this program does come at a cost— less funding for the primary road system.  Historically, townships have been WCRC’s biggest partner in improving local roads. Townships typically invest $5-7 million annually in our road network.

Special Assessment Districts (S.A.D.)

Another tool to fund local road improvements are Special Assessment Districts (S.A.D.). An S.A.D. is a designated area where a majority of property owners agree to allow a government agency to levy a special property tax to improve a public road. If approved, WCRC or the local municipality will front the cost of the road improvement and property owners agree to pay the cost over a period of years. For more information, please visit our special assessment districts page.

State Trunkline Maintenance Contract

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) hires the Washtenaw County Road Commission to maintain state highways within the county. State highways are routes designated with an I, M, or a US, such as I-94, M-14, and US 23. MDOT reimburses the WCRC for the cost of maintenance on these routes.

I pay property tax! Why is it not enough to fix our roads?

Many residents believe that their property taxes fund a majority of road work, but that is not true. The property tax you pay is primarily used for local and county governmental units and schools. The majority of WCRC’s budget is funded by the State of Michigan via the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF), which includes revenue from gas tax and vehicle registration fees. While the county and some townships have imposed small property taxes (millages) to improve roads, a majority of WCRC’s revenue comes from the MTF.

My neighbors and I are interested in funding improvements our neighborhood. Where can I learn more?

Please visit our Special Assessment Districts (S.A.D.) page to learn more about how to fund improvements in your neighborhood or subdivision.

Where can I learn more about WCRC’s plans for future road work?

WCRC’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) outlines a blueprint for maintaining and preserving our road and bridge network. To learn more, visit our Future Projects page.

Future Projects

Click to learn more about how WCRC plans future road improvements.

Four-Year Road Millage

Click to learn more about Washtenaw County’s road & non-motorized path millage.