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Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Michigan’s Private Roads and the Mayor of Mackinac Island

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Image credit: CGP Grey

Did you know that nearly two out of three Michigan communities have private roads? Also, meet Mackinac Island’s mayor.

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Stephen Henderson speaks with Tom Ivacko, administrator for the Center for Local State and Urban Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. They discuss the questions that homeowners and local governments face when dealing with private roads in Michigan. The key points:

  • Who has access?: Unlike public roads, Ivacko says, the building and maintaining of private roads is paid for by the homeowners whose houses reside on them. Because of this, he says the question of deciding who has the right to drive on them is often raised.
  • Who pays for them?: Ivacko says most problems that arise have to do with long-term maintenance of private roads. He says that when homeowners don’t have enough commitment or understanding that private roads are not funded by taxpayers, the local government often has to act as an arbitrator. According to Ivacko, of the local jurisdictions with at least one private road, 34% have had controversial disputes over funding.
  • Under pressure: Henderson and Ivacko agree that local governments in Michigan are strained to determine who owns and is responsible for the private roads. Ivacko says that when the economy takes a downward turn, local governments often see privatization of services as a way to lower costs. He says that while this is “supposed to” work, the tax cap imposed by the state constrains local revenues. He says he does not believe a statewide solution to private roads issues will appear in the near future.

WDET’s Jerome Vaughn speaks with Maureen Doud, the Mayor of Mackinac Island, about her history in politics and what it’s like to work for a city that is flooded with tourists in the summer and practically empty of them in the winter. The main points:

  •  Family history: Doud says she followed in her father’s footsteps when she was joined the Mackinac Island city council in 1974 and elected mayor in 1975. She has spent the past 40 years as Mackinac’s mayor and she says it is important to take care of and preserve the island where so many people come each year to step backward in time.
  • Changing with the seasons: Doud says she feels like the mayor of two cities, one in the summer, and one in the winter. She says that after the swell of tourists dwindles at the end of summer, the island moves at a much slower pace. She says that after the Mackinac Bridge was opened in the 1950s, summer tourism increased making the summer season seem longer for year-round residents and the winter months slower in comparison.

To hear both full conversations click the audio link above. 

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