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It’s Time to Get Serious About Michigan’s Infrastructure

Competing for talent and global companies requires thoughtful investment in roads, bridges and waterways

By: Eric Lupher

Few things are as core to government as infrastructure. State and local governments provide the roads we drive on, the water and sewer pipes that move water to our properties and wastewater from them, dams that affect water flow and harness the water for electricity, and the water ports and airports that are necessary for moving goods and people long distances. They provide libraries, sidewalks, recreation centers, and many other forms of infrastructure that we often take for granted.

Historically, Michigan has been at the forefront for many infrastructure developments. This includes the first mile of concrete-paved roadway in the country on Woodward Avenue. Infrastructure investment was necessary to move bombers made at Willow Run to the front lines during World War II. And the Great Lakes Water Authority is one of the largest special authorities in the nation for treating and moving water.

But, for as good as Michigan has been at building roadways, airports, dams, and other infrastructure, we receive a failing grade for maintaining the infrastructure and giving the state and local government officials the resources to replace the infrastructure as its usefulness expires.

Roadways of various ages are crumbling because they have not been properly maintained. Dams are nearing the end of their useful lives and are in danger of collapsing. Engineers warn that the infrastructure we can’t see (water and sewer lines) is worse than what we can see (our cratered roadways). Will the Fraser sinkhole be the first of many, or the last problem of the type?

Things came to a head three years ago to address our road funding deficiencies. Gas and registration tax increases came online last year to constitute half of the new funding. The other half of the funding was to come by institutionalizing a dedication of funding from the state’s General Fund. Now that funding is set to begin, we’re asking whether there will be sufficient resources to allow the state to fund roads and also sustain the other services funded with General Fund dollars.

Pursuant to findings from Gov. Snyder’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, plans are being developed to provide statewide access to high-quality broadband, clean and redevelop environmentally contaminated sites, stop invasive carp, fix our aging water infrastructure, and increase the recycling rate to leave a cleaner state for the next generation.

Let’s be clear as these discussions begin, those things cost money. The rate of growth of state tax revenues is not sufficient to think that excess revenues can easily be diverted for those purposes. New taxes and fees will be necessary to build, or rebuild, this infrastructure. And we need to do it with the mindset that the funding should be there to maintain the infrastructure once it is in place.

Experts and the general public point to a number of reasons Detroit did not make it to the short list for Amazon’s second headquarters. Clearly workforce talent and lack of mass transit played a role. These are issues for all employers considering Southeast Michigan. But it should be equally concerning that we have to show visitors around on our deteriorating streets while we worry that the water and sewer systems will be able to service increased demands.