On this week’s edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast, a recap of transportation-related state legislation signed into law in 2022.
Guests include Aarne Frobom, a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) senior policy analyst, and Troy Hagon, director of the department’s Office of Governmental Affairs.
Both agreed that two bills aimed at streamlining the funding process for local road agencies, and adopted with bipartisan support, were among the most significant. Senate Bill (SB) 0465 allows local road agencies to participate in a federal aid swap with the state to reduce overall repair costs.
Another bill, SB 466, authorizes the use of state funds to replace the federal dollars directed to MDOT under SB 465. Michigan joins several other states employing the buyout strategy.
Other significant legislation included SB 706, a national first in paving the way for dedicated automated vehicle lanes on state routes, also adopted with bipartisan support. Specifically, the legislation authorizes MDOT to designate automated vehicle roadways, enter into agreements with technology partners to operate them, and allows for a user fee to be assessed.
Two other bills discussed on the podcast failed to get a vote in the final session of the year: House Bill 5734, which calls for the department to expand the use of temporary barriers for worker protection in segments of roads under construction, and SB 1151, aimed at providing toll operators with a mechanism for collecting unpaid tolls.
Jeff Cranson: Hello this is the Talking Michigan Transportation podcast. I'm your host Jeff Cranson. Today we're going to be talking about legislation related to Michigan transportation that was adopted in 2022 and maybe some that that wasn't adopted, and we'll look ahead to see what might be on the legislative calendar going into 2023 and here to break it down is someone I consider the John Meachum of Michigan transportation; MDOT senior policy analyst Aarne Frobom and MDOT Director of Governmental Affairs; Troy Hagon who I consider the Troy Hagon of transportation. So, Aarne thank you for being here.
Aarne Frobom: Yeah, thanks Jeff. My job is to help Troy figure out what is in all of these bills. Transportation sector, somehow that seems about right.
Cranson: And Troy, thank you too for taking time.
Troy Hagon: Thank you, Jeff, for inviting me to participate. I appreciate that. And I could not do my job without Arnie. Arnie is the brains behind the legislative operation of them, that he is the brains behind a lot of things, and I couldn't do my job without him either.
Cranson: He he's a great resource. Well, let's go ahead and jump into, you know, I guess let's start with this. Troy, you give me your answer and then Arnie can give me his answer. But what do you think was the most significant transportation related legislative bill in the past year?
Hagon: For me, I think the most significant transportation related pieces of legislation that passed was the federal aid buyback legislation which allowed counties to access MDOT federal aid at a cheaper rate and MDOT receive gets their state funding and the reason that I believe that that. Was a significant piece of legislation was because we had we started working on that and the governor very early on in the governor's term that came up in August of 2019 right after the governor had been elected and sworn in you know it's. We just gotten through the summer months, and it took that entire first session and we didn't get it until the second session of the of the governor's term. So, to me that was a big significant reform that was, you know a bipartisan reform, let me put it that way, that was introduced by members of the majority party and you know, we work diligently to craft a piece of legislation that worked both for the department, the locals and, you know, bipartisanly within the legislature.
Cranson: So, Arnie, before we talk more about that. Would you agree, or is there something else you would rate higher in terms of significance?
Frobom: No, I think I'd agree that the federal aid slot program revives something that that used to be in business here in Michigan until. About 15 years ago when funding simply got too tight to prevent it. But it's in operation again now. Year in fiscal 23 and it allows counties and the larger cities to watch their approved for federal aid to exchange that federal aid for state cash at the rate of $0.90 on the dollar.
Cranson: Why are they willing to do that?
Frobom: Administering a project from the state funds is a lot cheaper and simpler than administering federal aid.
Cranson: It's just a red tape thing?
Frobom: Mostly yes it exempts the projects from some federal requirements, not all of them. And then the federal aid is returned to MDOT for use on our state wide program. The $25 million available in this year was subscribed for almost immediately and this year will make $35 million in swaps available for fiscal 24 and that will continue at the rate of $45 million a year. So long as state Trunkline funds are acceptable, they're available.
Cranson: Maybe we should you know, for reset for anybody that doesn't understand Michigan's, I don't know if it's unique, but it's probably most people don't know that we have 616 road agencies, and you know whether that's good or bad doesn't really matter because that's the way it is. Talk about that and. And you know, how does that compare to other states? And why are some more streamlined?
Frobom: Well, in some states, federal aid is available only to the state highway agency because Michigan has so many local miles and so many local highway agencies, roughly 25% of the federal aid is passed through to the local units. But especially for the smaller ones, it's sometimes a troublesome thing for them to operate on. So along with about I think it's 23 other states. Michigan now enables the local units to return their federal aid back to the State Highway agency,
Cranson: So Troy I always marvel at the patience it takes to do your job and you go back to legislators and they change every six years or every eight years. And fortunately, that's going to change because of what I think is a good revision in the term limits laws, but you have got to reeducate these people and start over again. A lot of times in these kinds of laws that can be complex and or cake and you keep at it. So, talk about this one in particular and why it seems like a no brainer on the surface. Why was it still so difficult to get across the finish line?
Hagon: Well, it really was the mechanics of the drafted legislation itself, I mean as drafted or as introduced the way it was drafted, the mechanics of the Statute just really did not work with the way that federal aid is administered. So, it took a long time to be able to educate those who introduced the legislation. Our external stakeholders, as well as members of each of the of the Transportation policy committees on the mechanics of how we administer federal aid and the processes in which it goes through and then to bring them along with actually the redrafting of it, that that Arnie did and the way that it could actually be implemented. So, it was to get them to understand that yes, we can implement this, but it has to be drafted in a way that is able to be implemented. And that's really what took so long and giving that to the governor's desk for her signature, and in the end, I mean, we were successful in doing that and Chairman Barrett, who's chairman of the of this Senate Transportation Committee, was just worked very cooperatively with us and with the sponsors in allowing MDOT to draft it and then help bring along the rest of the of the folks.
Cranson: So, another one that I think was definitely a significant and it's still hard to say because we're in a brave new world when it comes to automated vehicle technology and how fast that's going to be a thing. You know, there's debates about whether or not it's still on a fast track or whether some PR issues and public perceptions often, often misguided perceptions, are slowing it down. But Senate Bill 706, which helped the company Cavnue of what they want to do with dedicated lanes for AV travel, automated vehicle travel, talk first Aarne I guess about that bill and what it does.
Frobom: You know this bill was necessary because there was no law in Michigan that enables MDOT to restrict any of the lanes of the state highway system to one particular class of user or another. For a while, there was briefly enacted a law enabling HOV lanes which was used on Michigan Ave. during the I-75 reconstruction. But that was only temporary. But now all we have is a law that enables us to restrict certain lanes on the system to specially equipped vehicles, such as automated or what we call connected vehicles that communicate with each other or with the highway system. And it remains to be seen if any of the experimenters in that area will ever use this law in the short term, but if you wanted to carve out a piece of the system for this kind of experimentation, we could do it.
Cranson: That's another one Troy that you and your office worked very hard on. Can you talk a little bit about that process and how you got such a strong bipartisan support?
Hagon: Certainly, so that wouldn't 706 was unique from the standpoint that it did not go through the traditional transportation committees, at least on the Senate side, and went through more of an economic development committee on the Senate side. So, it was from my standpoint and from my colleague’s standpoint, my office, it was fun to be able to work with different members of the Senate on an important piece of legislation like this. It was a 706, was very important to external stakeholders, as well as the governor's office. So again, it really came down to be able to craft a piece of legislation that we were going to be able to all implement together. And so, it was drafted before introduction by you know stakeholder attorneys and advocates, and then, you know, presented to them to the executive branch of government and to the legislative branch. And then that's really when the executive branch and legislative branch sat down and really worked together to be able to craft something that we could implement and I think in the end we came out with a good with a good piece of legislation that, as Aarne said, if in the short term these providers do want to utilize that, we will be able to implement. It was exciting as well because it can it continued Michigan's legislative legacy of being able to craft legislative compromises and policy that in this arena that does get wide bipartisan support.
Cranson: Ya you know, if we're going to continue to be the leader in all things mobility in Michigan and this is the kind of thing we have to embrace. And that's why the governor and Mayor Duggan and Bill Ford, chairman of the board of Ford Motor Company announced this with great fanfare in Detroit a couple years ago that you know what is going to be the kind of new mobility headquarters for Ford down in Cork Town and the best significance can't be overstated. But we also are going to have to keep a close eye on things and see how they develop because like. Anything like this that you're taking some risks and you're betting on technology and betting on adoption of that technology. It's hard to say how long it takes and where it ends, right.
Hagon: So, you're exactly right, Jeff, that I mean, yeah, when you are pursuing moon shots, I mean do you have to make sure that you're doing the risk analysis as well that goes along with pursuing of advanced and new technology.
Cranson: We will continue the conversation right after a quick break.
MDOT Message: The Michigan Department of Transportation reminds you that when a vehicle collides with another vehicle, person or other object, it is a crash, not an accident. By reducing human error, we can prevent crashes and rebuild Michigan roads safely.
Cranson: So, Aarne a couple others on your list were the updated vehicle code for the Queue Line Streetcar. What was the revision there?
Frobom: Well, it didn't involve the department too much, but it was a very nice job by the city of Detroit. It's been, let's see, almost 70 years since people had to steer around street cars on Woodward Ave. but now, they do again. So, the legislature went back and adjusted the vehicle code to remind people that know you can't park on the Streetcar tracks.
Cranson: So, did I tell you about the time a couple of years ago I was having lunch with a friend of mine at The Detroit News at the Pot Belly right there off of Woodward and all of a sudden there was this incessant honking. And I looked out and it was the Streetcar, and the driver was honking because a pickup truck had stopped on the tracks and the driver was running into Starbucks and just let the truck sit there. So yeah, I'd say this was necessary.
Frobom: Yeah, there were a few other housekeeping type bills that went through. One thing that was done was to update Michigan's laws governing the .08% blood alcohol content. Have laws governing truck driver training to match federal laws, affects only a few people, but it also keeps Michigan in compliance with federal law and ensures that the federal funds keep flowing, there was an update to the law that enables road agencies to recover from damage to the roadside infrastructure from vehicle crashes, including things like truck collisions with bridges. It's now a little bit easier to recover from truck operators, although the upper million-dollar limit on the total recovery amount; that's still in place.
Cranson: Yeah, there’s going to need to be more work there. Troy, do you see that getting any traction again? Because it's the first question anybody asks when one of these happen; you know, who pays for it and how much can you get? Right?
Hagon: Yeah. I think that's always a consistent interest form the legislator. As we have seen, I mean over my 15-year career here at MDOT I’ve definitely seen a much greater proliferation of those bridge hits. So, in the way that those affect mobility around the state. So, I definitely think as that touches more citizens lives and they contact legislators, I think that we'll continue to see work in that area.
Cranson: So, looking ahead. You know, there's a couple pending right now. I mean, as we record this on Wednesday, December 7th and the senate is probably wrapping up, sounds like there's a chance that there's going to be adoption of this law, which would require the use of more concrete barrier to protect workers in construction zones. Is that still very much alive?
Hagon: Yes, it is my understanding that it is still very much alive. There’s a substitute Bill that MDOT agreed to that would be adopted by the state Senate today and then it would need to go back to the House of Representatives for concurrence and that just means that the House would concur and the changes that the Senate made to the bill. And then it could be ordered enrolled and sent to the governor, presented to the governor for her signature. So that is an area that MDOT continues to focus on with all of our external stakeholders as work is safety and work zones. So, if the concrete barrier Bill does in fact pass and is signed by the governor, work zone safety, and with that bill is one area that was legislative policy that was enacted this year. The second one was a bill to bring up or to have digital speeds signs in work zones, which just helps folks identify their speed as they're entering work zones and then also unfortunately, work zone automated enforcement with cameras did get some legislative discussion this year. There was a couple of different bills that were introduced on the House side and one bill on the senate side, but it does not appear at this time that any of these will be brought across the finish line. So, we'll be back with the second session, but I think that the legislative wins out of those are that we were able to take large groups of legislators, one group on the west side of the state and one group on the east side of the state, we were really able to showcase that technology and show what it is doing around the country to drive down speeds and how it works in work zones.
Cranson: Absolutely. Yeah, it's been successful in other States and now just trying to remind people that there is someone who works here and all the various metaphors that you hear and see about imagine having someone speed through your work area, it's not something we can probably over overemphasize. But Arnie talk a little bit about another one that is pending may be voted on by the time people hear this podcast. It's not an MDOT bill, but it's certainly a transportation bill. 1153 and what that does in terms of affecting certain toll facilities, bridges and tunnels in Michigan, and the ability for those operators to go after people who don’t pay their tolls over a period of time.
Frobom: Yeah, very late in session the bill was introduced that would let the operators of toll bridges and the Detroit River tunnel use car registration as a way to enforce the payment of tolls. Most toll bridge operators are moving to a system where you don’t have to stop and hand over cash to a toll collector you simply use a radio device that records your passage as you as you fly under the toll booth. And of course, it's possible to drive through without one of those devices, so the operators of the Detroit International Bridge, the Ambassador Bridge asked the legislature to tell the Secretary of State that they must refuse the registration of a car that violates the automated toll booth at least three times, it has passed one house and Troy says it might go the rest of the distance this afternoon.
Cranson: Yeah, it passed the senate 34 to 3 I mean it had strong Bipartisan support. Secretary of State’s office has some reservations about it. I think they don't want to have to be in the enforcement business in the business of telling people. I'm sorry, you can't register your vehicle because of this. But it sounds like the last thing I heard today is that they've worked out some compromise language and they think they might get there, and it seems, you know, like right now it's limited in its application, but given that we have a broader tolling study going on, you know that could or couldn't extend tolling to other roads in Michigan. I mean this seems like something that they should be thinking about looking ahead to if you're going to do tolling without toll booths and gantries that you've got to have some enforcement mechanism, some reason to incentivize people to actually pay the toll, just like you pay a parking ticket or anything else.
Frobom: Yeah, until you sit and think about it, you don't realize that there are now 8 toll bridge and tunnel operators in Michigan. That includes a possible new operation at Bay City and the new Gordie Howe International Bridge that's under construction in Detroit.
Cranson: The tolls will be collected in Canada for that one.
Frobom: Yeah, that's right. But it's certainly all these operators will sooner or later have electronic toll collection.
Cranson: absolutely. It's just the most efficient way. I mean, it just makes sense.
Frobom: Yeah, actually, Michigan already has an agreement with some other toll road operators to try to collect tolls from Michigan drivers if they blow through without stopping around Ontario and perhaps some others.
Cranson: How does that work?
Frobom: And at the very least, they forward the address to the to the Canadian operator. It wouldn't be able to withhold registration here in Michigan, but they would try to help other states and other countries, creators from and Michigan drivers who might be deadbeats, but I'm sure there aren't many of those.
Cranson: That's probably a good place to wrap it up. I appreciate it, anything else either one of you want to say about this year. I mean, I know you probably feel like these things flew under the radar somewhat and they did, but really, these are significant policy changes and I think for the better. The only thing I’d like to add is there was also a creation of a new multimodal office within MDOT and that was the Office of Ports. That was another bipartisan bill package. So, I just like to add that the legislature and MDOT worked together to, you know, renew our focus on ports and create a grant program for ports that we're waiting on appropriation to seed that program, but I think that that will be beneficial for Michigan’s ports and shipping industry as well moving forward. Just wrapping up on my end I would like to say how happy I am with this legislative term and the amount of bipartisan work we were able to accomplish on all of our legislative efforts and really everything had bipartisan sponsors. If it was a multi bill package or bipartisan co-sponsors that went through the legislature in a bipartisan fashion, and you know we were able to work very well with all of our chairs and subcommittee chairs, and even though we maybe we didn't get a large number of bills signed in the law.
Cranson: It’s quality not quantity Troy.
Hagon: Right and there’s always that elephant in the room on the long-term funding, but it really was a successful legislative term for MDOT, and I believe for a lot of transportation stakeholders.
Cranson: No, I agree. Well said. And I think in this area that we've been able to accomplish to accomplish anything, fashion is a huge deal. When your team deserves some congratulations and certainly Arne and others in planning who help us with the analysis and help us understand what these are so that we can explain them to people, that's very helpful too. So, thank you both. I appreciate it. I hope you guys both have great holidays.
Frobom: Thanks Jeff.
Hagon: Thank you, Jeff, thank you, Aarne.
Cranson: Thank you everybody I hope you enjoyed this week's edition of the Talking Michigan Transportation Podcast. You can find show notes and more information at either the Buzzsprout site or on Apple Podcast. I also want to thank the people who work on this podcast and make it as good as it can be each week. Chiefly, Randy Debler who does the audio editing. Also, Jacke Salinas who puts the transcript together, Jesse Ball, who proofreads the show notes, and Courtney Bates, who posts the podcast on the various platforms.