Poll: New Lansing Mayor Must Fix Roads, Sidewalks

LANSING – Fixing the city’s aging roads and sidewalks should be the top priority for the new mayor who’ll take office next year, according to a new poll of city voters.

Nearly 60% of 300 likely voters said infrastructure is the top issue for a new mayor to tackle. The poll was conducted March 7-9 by East Lansing-based Denno Research and has a margin of error of six percentage points.

Other options for top issues included jobs and the economy (12.3%), medical marijuana shops (7%), neighborhoods (5.3%), public safety (5%)  the city’s budget and legacy costs (3.7%) and parks and trails (2%). Of the group, 5% of voters were unsure or didn’t know.

After last fall’s presidential election, more people may be skeptical of poll results. Dennis Denno, of Denno Research, said Tuesday it’s always challenging for a pollster, especially when analyzing likely voters in Michigan municipalities like Lansing, which typically has a low turnout for its off-year elections that select city council members and the mayor.

“Are you hitting the people who are likely to vote in this election?” Denno said. “I think that’s something people are continually trying to figure out.”

The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce paid Denno to conduct the survey and takes the results seriously. Voters’ overwhelming concern about infrastructure comes after a recent survey the chamber conducted of its members, which found 38% believe infrastructure to be a priority in the entire region, said Tim Daman, chamber president and CEO.

“Clearly there’s some type of unified force here driving business and residents in saying ‘You know what? It’s time to fix our infrastructure,'” Daman said.

Asked if the city is headed in the right direction, 44% of voters agreed, while 30% said “wrong direction” and nearly 26% said they were unsure or didn’t respond.

Nearly 20% of voters picked infrastructure, roads and sidewalks as the second issue they would like to see the new mayor tackle. That was followed by jobs and the economy (18%), public safety (13%) and medical marijuana shops (11.7%). The city’s budget and legacy costs and neighborhoods each drew 11.3% of voters. Those either unsure or didn’t know were recorded at 8% followed by parks and trails at 7%.

Chad Gamble, Lansing’s public service director, said Tuesday the city will continue to do the best it can with limited funds to improve infrastructure. The city, in conjunction with Ingham County and other regional partners, will also continue to lobby for increased funding from the state and federal government, Gamble said.

“This is not just a local issue; this is an issue of grave concern at the national level,” Gamble said.

Lansing’s street system, according to the city’s website, consists of 107 miles of major streets, 303 miles of local streets and 989 total lane miles. Ratings posted online of the city’s streets, based on the PASER ratings system, show the majority are rated “failed’ to “poor.”

Last fall, Lansing voters approved a millage renewal that supports roads and police and fire services. It included 1 mill for maintenance of local roads and sidewalks.

Mayor Virg Bernero said in his State of the City Address last week his vision is to administer regional funding to support infrastructure, economic development, transit and public safety. He mentioned a regional sales tax as “the most promising idea.”

“Let’s be honest: Taxpayers are going to have to ultimately foot the bill for fixing our infrastructure and resolving unfunded liabilities,” said Bernero, who won’t seek a fourth term after his current one expires on Dec. 31. “If the state won’t do it, we have to do it ourselves.”

The city spent $300,000 last fall to repave a mile-long portion of Michigan Avenue from Sparrow Hospital to just west US 127. Work began about three weeks after the chamber sent a letter to Bernero and council members urging them to fix the corridor from Pennsylvania Avenue on the west to U.S. 127 on the east.

The poll did not ask voters which of the city’s four wards they reside in. Of the group, 75 of the 300 respondents were from cell phones.

In addition to picking a new mayor on Nov. 7, voters will also fill four City Council seats and the city clerk’s office.

At-Large Council Member Judi Brown Clarke and State Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, have filed to run for mayor. There are nine candidates currently filed to run for council: five for two at-large seats, three for a 2nd Ward seat and one for a 4th Ward seat.

Eric Lacy is a reporter for the Lansing State Journal. Contact him at 517-377-1206 or elacy@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricLacy.