Iron River, Mich. (WZMQ) – The Iron County road commission is taking action to address the lack of bridge funding in the Upper Peninsula, and statewide by applying for state and federal funding. According to Brad Toivonen, the interim superintendent manager of the Iron County Road Commission, the commission submitted applications in April for funding that will be allocated in 2026. Statewide, there were 388 applications for $470 million, and in the U.P., there were 53 applications for $45 million.
“There’s a big shortage,” Toivonen stated. He added that the road commission is feeling the constraints of the lack of funding when it comes to projects in need of repair. To put it into perspective, the U.P. only received $7.5 million in budgeted funds for 2025 allocations.
Toivonen also mentioned that there are currently two bridges on state trunk lines being worked on by Hebert Construction. One is located below Crystal Falls, at the bottom of the hill on M-69, and the other is on US-41 north of Amasa on 141.
“The city of Crystal Falls has a detour that has some citizens a little bit cranky but it’s better than driving around to Koski Korners and coming back down or going through Florence,” he shared.
“The road commission this winter had to close one of our local primary road bridges due to the final inspections. We’ve got barricades up,” Toivonen explained.
The Iron County Road Commission is facing a long wait for funding to repair the bridge on Idlewild Road near Fortune Lake that had to be closed this winter due to its poor condition. The commission submitted an application for funding in April, but it may take years before the funding is received.
“We have a private engineering firm do all our bridge inspections, and this one happened to be getting in such poor condition that we needed to close it this winter,” Toivonen explained. “We’ve made preparations to get the application in and get the funding rolling, but it looks like it may be years before we receive the funding for it.”
The closure of the bridge is inconveniencing some cottages along the backside of Fortune Lake and affecting a scenic route in the fall which could affect Upper Peninsula tourism. “People won’t be able to do the through route around the lake from now on, I guess,” Toivonen said.
Toivonen believes the road commission will be notified in October or November about who will receive the funding.
Toivonen also mentioned that FEMA teams arrived in May to assess the spring flooding damages in six U.P. counties. The road commissions were told to estimate as Eagle, which is now known as the Department of Environmental Great Lakes and Energy.
Toivonen shared the challenges faced by the commission in estimating flood damage caused by the spring flooding. Toivonen explained that FEMA teams arrived at the end of May to assess the damages in the six counties.
“We were told to estimate our culvert crossings to Eagle standards, which is probably upgrading the size of the culverts and bridges or box culverts to their standards,” Toivonen said. “But once the teams showed up at the end of May, they changed their mind and said they could only estimate to put the sites into pre-disaster conditions, which lowered the dollar amount for the damages.”
Toivonen estimated 4.7 million dollars worth of damage for Iron County, but after being given 24 hours to re-do the estimates to pre-disaster conditions, the amount dropped to $520,000. The six counties combined were short of meeting a $17 million threshold, which would have qualified them for FEMA help.
“There’s still an argument that Eagle standards should be used to upgrade these sites so they don’t wash out anymore,” Toivonen said. “There’s a push in Lansing to get the higher dollar estimate amounts applied to qualify, so hopefully, because Gogebic county has got a lot of damage as well as Ontonagon.”
Toivanen explained that changes to the federal debt ceiling could also impact the Iron County Road Commission. His recent interaction with MDOT officials regarding the potential reduction of funding for two projects scheduled for 2024 suggests that federal funding from the Coronavirus Response Release Supplement Appropriations Act may no longer be available going forward.
“I attended a virtual statewide meeting with MDOT officials, and they got word that the federal debt ceiling legislation that was going to be passed that they were going to take the CRRSAA money that wasn’t obligated yet, which was the Coronavirus Response Release Supplement Appropriations Act,” Toivonen explained. “We were told that we were able to allocate our money through that relief plan up until 2024. As far as the debt ceiling, to get the federal debt ceiling higher, during bipartisan negotiations they were saying that whatever money was in that CRRSAA funding that hasn’t been used or allocated should be pulled out. So it might affect two of my projects scheduled for 2024 totaling around $220,000,” announced Toivonen.
Toivonen expressed concern about the potential funding reduction and its impact on the projects. The Iron County Road Commission will continue to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly.