Column: Fix Michigan’s roads

Mike Nystrom

Michiganians have daily encounters with aging, crumbling and failing infrastructure.

Our cars shake, rattle and roll down some of the nation’s worst roads. The Flint water crisis makes state and national news. Sinkholes from failing sewers swallow homes and crumble roads in Fraser and, just last month, in Hamburg Township. E coli contamination closes nearly 100 Michigan beaches every summer. Billions of gallons of sewage spill into the Au Sable River, the Huron River, the Kalamazoo River, the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Michigan and other Michigan rivers, bays and lakes. At this very moment, hundreds of dams across Michigan long ago exceeded their design lives.

Michigan’s infrastructure (our roads and bridges, sewers, dams, drinking water systems) just received a “D” grade — again — from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Michigan voters totally understand our infrastructure is a mess. In two recent polls, voters said fixing Michigan’s infrastructure is the top issue facing our state. Fixing infrastructure is a top priority issue for the business community — from the Detroit Regional Chamber to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber to Business Leaders for Michigan.

Following months of research and public meetings, the Governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission in December and Business Leaders for Michigan in January concluded that fixing Michigan’s infrastructure will cost $4 billion more, each year, for about the next 20 years.

So given this urgency, the state Legislature is creating a plan to fix our infrastructure, right? Wrong. In fact, state lawmakers are doing just the opposite: the Legislature just scrapped plans to fix our infrastructure.

Last week, the state Senate voted to eliminate all funding for the Michigan Infrastructure Fund (MIF), which was proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder in the 2018 state budget to start the process of helping local governments fix aging roads and bridges, sewers, drinking water systems and dams, until the Legislature finds a long-term solution. The MIF had $20 million in it — not nearly enough to address all the needs, but a start. So, illogically, the Legislature “zeroed it out.” Worse, the Legislature has not held a single public hearing all year to study a long-term solution to fixing infrastructure.

I hope you just asked yourself this question: “What the heck are they doing in Lansing?”

Frankly, by eliminating the MIF, state lawmakers have demonstrated they are either completely out of touch or they just don’t care. Fixing infrastructure is not a Republican or Democrat issue. Failing infrastructure threatens every Republican and Democrat, every business, and every community in Michigan. Failing infrastructure is a clear and present danger to Michigan’s public health and safety, our children, our economy, and the water that abounds and surrounds our state and benefits us in so many ways.

Under a law passed by the Legislature in late 2015, the state is supposed to commit $1.2 billion more every year by 2021 to start substantially fixing Michigan’s roads and bridges. Part of this agreement earmarks $600 million more every year from the state’s general fund to fix roads and bridges. None of the state’s other urgent infrastructure needs are addressed. There isn’t a penny for sewers, dams or drinking water systems. The elimination of the MIF raises doubts about whether the Legislature intends to honor the roads and bridges law they passed in 2015.

So in Lansing, the Legislature fiddles while Michigan’s infrastructure fails.

Many of Michigan’s infrastructure systems are 50 to 100 years old. Some date back to the late 1800s. It’s time for the Michigan Legislature to wake up and fix our infrastructure.

Mike Nystrom is executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association and is leading the Fix MI State campaign.