A Look At Michigan Transportation Data

This is not about urban Grand Rapids, it is about the state of Michigan. But the data is too interesting to pass up. For anyone interested this data (and more than mentioned here) is available for every state at dot.gov's "State Transportation by the Numbers Profiles" page.

One statistic that really stands out is that of Michigan's 122,051 miles of public roads ... 89.1% are of acceptable quality. This in contrast to a national average of 81.3%. So Michigan roads beat the national average by 7.8%, and are only a percentage point away from having 90% of roads at acceptable quality. Where is the crisis of road quality? I hear about this crisis all the time.

With 122,051 miles of roads and 9,909,877 citizens [2014 estimate] there are roughly 80 citizens per road-mile; a number which includes children and elderly. Another correlation would be 122,051 miles of roads for a workforce of 4,747,800 workers (December 2014) - or 38 workers per road mile. Given the cost of a road-mile this is clearly an unsustainable system. Given only 38 workers to pay for every road mile the fact that our roads are 89.1% acceptable is a miraculous achievement. The simplest solution to funding improved quality of our core corridors would be reducing the overall number of road miles to a sustainable level. Or if not a net reduction in road miles a reduction in the service level of low-use and tertiary roads.

Aside: Look at this this data on road miles and road quality and then also consider the fact that Michigan is ranked 49th out of 50 states for total per capita road spending. The expanse and quality of our roads is an impressive achievement. Anyone saying otherwise is clearly ignoring the data; I fail to see how there is any other rational conclusion. I am very proud to be a resident of a state ranked 49th out of 50 on road spending. 50 of 50 looks like an achievable goal.

Michigan residents can also be proud that our DOT is third in the nation for the ratio of spending on maintenance verses yet-more-miles. MDOT spends 87% of its road dollars on maintenance. Only North Dakota and Nebraska beat that ratio.

The report also includes bridges: we have 11,000 of them. Of that 11,000 12.3% are structurally deficient, compared to an national figure of 11.0%. Placing Michigan just barely behind the curve. When looking at the data beware the "functionally obsolete" category. A functionally obsolete bridge may be a bridge in pristine condition but which fails to comply with any number of recommendations - such as being wide enough to have a break down lane.

Aside: The Brooklyn Bridge is functionally obsolete but structurally sound.

Bridges are a more serious problem than roads; a structurally deficient bridge is much more dangerous than a road with pot holes. And regardless if a road is gravel, paved, two lanes or four, you always need the bridge; you can down-size a road, you still need the bridge. I am skeptical of the crisis of road quality, I am completely on board with the need to rebuild our bridges.

How residents get to work?

Mode Michigan National
Drive Alone 82.5 76.3
Carpool 9.0 9.7
Public Transportation 1.5 5.0
Bicycle 0.5 0.6
Walk 2.2 2.8
Other 0.8 1.2
Worked At Home 3.7 4.4

Some sad numbers, but understandable given what we've built.

Where did we go?

The data also includes overall trip statistics. On a positive note only 15.8% of our trips are work related; 13.1% of trips are commuting to and from work and another 2.7% are work related. Leaving a healthy 84.2% of our trips as non-work.

Category Trip %
Family / Personal Business 45.7
Social / Recreational 29.2
To/From Work 13.1
School / Church 8.0
Work Related 2.7
Other 1.3

And we go more places: the national average of trips per person is 3.79 compared to a Michigan average of 4.28. That is a lot more trips. And we go further. The national average of miles per days is 36.1 while the busy Michigander travels 38.7 miles per day.

How we travel?

Given the data point of 38.7 miles per day it is notable that vehicle miles traveled dropped 5.6% between 2002 and 2012. A drop of 5.6 billion vehicle miles.

Aside: Yes, that is accurate. The drop in miles and the drop as percentage is the same, it is a mathmatical fluke. The 2002 value is 100.1 billion miles, and the 2012 value is 94.5 billion miles.

The report is light on passenger transit information. It makes no distinctions by mode. However the overall state transit ridership has climbed to high of 101,100,000. This value is up 13.1% between 2002 and 2012. In the context of the drop of 5.6% in highway miles traveled...


Yea, then there is this.

Category Revenue Expenditure
Highway 2,048,000,000 3,565,000,000
Transit 85,000,000 614,000,000
Air 425,000,000 460,000,000

The expenditure for roads is $29,209 per road mile. It is important to note that this is state and local government values; these figures do not include federal dollars. Most construction and major rehabilitation projects involve federal subsidies.


Freight is a category often overlooked in transit discussions. But freight is economic activity. It is industry that supports everything we see around us; good infrastructure attracts industry.

My sad home town of Sand Lake lost its railroad connectivity in 1991 while the industrious little town of Marne used every trick in the book to keep theirs. And who has industry today? That short sighted infrastructure decision zeroed out an entire potential category of revenue along a corridor. ... but I digress.

Freight data is also interesting due to just how mind-boggling it is. At least if your a data nerd. These numbers are huge.

Stat Value Change
Freight Rail Miles 3,542
Value In Dollars 970.7 billion +2.9%
Tons 647.6 million +4.8%
Ton Miles 288.3 billion +7.4%

And the highest value cargo? Guess.. Right! Motorized Vehicles at $93.9 billion. "Other machinery" takes a distant second at $36.4 billion. You know you are in Michigan when any type of machine other than a car is an "other".

The heaviest cargo? Also an easy guess - Coal at 34.9 million tons. But closely followed by Scrap metal at 30.4 million tons.