When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took office in 2019, the Michigan Department of Transportation had about 2,682 full-time employees and a budget of about $5 billion.

Today, there “more than 2,800” MDOT employees, according to the state website, and MDOT is working with a $6.6 billion budget.

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Yet the massive influx of employees and taxpayer cash haven’t moved the state closer to fulfilling Whitmer’s campaign promise to “fix the damn roads,” so she’s now creating a taxpayer-funded game to solicit help from the public.

“PitchMI is a statewide, Shark-Tank style competition helping innovators solve problems and address the biggest problems facing Michigan,” according to a press release from Whitmer’s office last week. “The state, in partnership with leading organizations, will host a public competition to solicit pitches and then invest in the most innovative start-up, who will then be able to take the capital and make their audacious idea a reality.”

Unsurprisingly, the Whitmer administration’s top priority for the inaugural competition: transportation.

“Is it a new way to fix the roads?” she asked on stage of the Mackinac Policy Conference, where she announced the competition on Thursday. “To everyone who eats, sleeps and breathes fixing the damn roads, now is your chance.”

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The contest, which will give away $100,000 from taxpayers, comes despite repeated assurances from the governor that she’s already hard at work getting the job done.

Just last week, Whitmer’s office declared “Governor Whitmer Continues to Fix the Damn Roads with Projects Starting This Week in Eight Counties.”

In April, she reiterated her campaign promise from six years ago in a post to X: “We’re going to keep fixing the damn roads so you can safely get to where you’re going.”

Days later, she was at it again, posting an image to X on May 4 pretending to operate a CAT paver without the required safety equipment.

“On my way to keep fixing the damn roads,” she wrote.

The reality, however, is “roads are deteriorating faster than the agencies can repair them,” according to Michigan’s 2023 Road & Bridges Annual Report.

The assessment shows that while Michigan improved 16.2% of roads eligible for federal aid between 2021 and 2023, 21.2% of those roads declined.

With non-federal aid roads, “47% were found to be in poor condition … (or) 2% more than from 2021 and 2022,” the report read.

Absent significantly more cash from taxpayers, things are only going to get worse despite Whitmer’s best efforts.

“Without additional and consistent long-term investment, the percentage of roads in poor condition will continue to increase as the increasing construction cost outpaces the ability to fix them,” according to the report.

Currently, about 33% of Michigan’s paved federal aid roads are in poor condition, while 41% are fair and 26% are in good condition. By 2035, the Transportation Asset Management Council that compiled the report forecasts 52% will be in poor condition, 28% in fair condition, and 20% in good condition.

The state of Michigan’s bridges – already the worst in the Great Lakes Region – are expected to follow a similar trajectory, MLive reports.

“This forecast for the severe condition category predicts an increase in future years, with 20% of all bridges to be in the poor or severe category by 2035,” according to the report.

How exactly Michigan will address the growing road problems remains unclear as the primary source of revenue for repairs – the state’s gas tax – is dwindling with federal mandates to increase gas mileage and a government-imposed transition to electric vehicles.

About $3.5 billion Whitmer borrowed in 2019 to “fix the damn roads” will run out next year, contributing to a $3.9 billion shortfall for road work, The Detroit News reports.

While Whitmer solicits help from Michiganders through the PitchMI competition, her Democratic allies in the Legislature are pursuing another option.

Tucked in a proposed $6.8 billion budget for transportation is a $5 million pilot program designed to look at the possibility of replacing Michigan’s 27.2 cents-per-gallon tax on gas and diesel with a mileage-based road user fee.

The proposal would require a 19-member technical advisory committee to consider the “ease and cost” of tracking Michiganders and taxing them by the mile through the optional pilot program.

“The baseline question we are asking ourselves right now is, what is the quickest way to be able to do a pilot in Michigan,” Canton Democratic Rep. Ranjeev Puri, chair of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee told Bridge Michigan. “I think it’s a little too early to design the program and have specifics, but … we would look at the variety of different ways that states around the country have been doing it and just figure out what works best for the state.”