Making local match is catch in receiving fed funds for roads

Daily Mining Gazette file photo The federal government announced Tuesday it will be providing $19.2 million in disaster relief to repair roads damaged by the June 17, 2018, flash flood, which included Agate Street in Houghton, seen here the day after the flood.

HOUGHTON — Local officials are thankful for federal money released for repairs of last year’s flood damage, but they are still looking for avenues for a local match.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced $19.2 million Tuesday for repairing or reconstructing federal aid routes damaged by the June 17 flood.

While Gogebic and Menominee counties also suffered damage, the bulk of the money will go to Houghton County, said Dan Weingarten of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Between 7-10 inches fell in the counties during several hours on the morning of June 17. Runoff caused extensive damage to roadways as well as bridge and culvert washouts.

Many of the roadways are still impassable.

The money granted by the U.S. Department of Transportation Tuesday reimburses local agencies for work that has already been done or is slated to occur.

“We’re very happy to get it,” said Houghton County Administrator Eric Forsberg, who thanked lawmakers for their efforts. “I was always sure that this money was coming. The difficult portion is coming up with the 20 percent match for this and the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money.”

Federal aid routes include interstates, primary highways and secondary local roads.

The 20 percent local match for the Houghton County Road Commission is about $3 million, roughly equal to one year of the county’s operating budget, Forsberg said.

Despite requests from the county, an appropriations bill passed by the state in December did not include Federal Highway Administration matching funds.

Houghton County Road Engineer Kevin Harju said the county is continuing to work with state and federal legislators to obtain funds.

“All of our legislators we’ve spoken to are very receptive and understand the need for the area,” Harju said.

This is the second installment of federal highway money released to Houghton County, Weingarten said. MDOT and local agencies received a $2 million quick release funds shortly after the disaster declaration.

“This is funding we always expected would be released, but it’s certainly good news to hear it’s been made available now,” he said.

Further installments are likely as repairs continue, Weingarten said.

When winter ends, work will resume on the Houghton Canal Road. Additional repairs are also needed on Liminga Road, where a box culvert was replaced last fall. Paving work will also be done on some of the roads that were completed last fall.

“There’s quite a bit of work to do,” Harju said. “It’s going to take all of the summer to complete those.”

On top of the federal aid routes, Houghton County is also working with FEMA on $15 million of projects for local roads in the county system. Those will be assessed on a project-by-project basis, Harju said. He asked drivers to be patient while repairs continue.

“It’ll be a very busy construction season again,” he said.