Opinion: Infrastructure updates keep Michigan safe
This week marks the seventh annual Infrastructure Week. Promoted by a nonprofit of the same name, this week’s national events are a collaboration of business, labor, elected officials, users, and producers. The goal is to educate the public and policymakers about the importance of infrastructure to the economy and highlight areas of need.
In Michigan, it’s hard to think of an issue more prominent than infrastructure — particularly our roads. It is painfully clear to every resident and visitor of this state, that Michigan is not investing in its roads. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s infrastructure funding proposal seeks to finally address our problems because it’s obvious to everyone that the current level of funding is not enough and it needs to change.
Plenty of folks have talked about the need to fix the roads in order to save drivers money, improve conditions for businesses, or create road construction jobs. While all these issues are important, one that needs more attention is public safety.
The fact is, crumbling roads and bridges put people’s lives at risk. A chunk of concrete falling from a bridge or a pothole that bends your rim at 70 miles per hour could be deadly. That alone should be motivation enough to forge a serious, bipartisan effort on road repairs.
While roads rightfully get a lot of attention, we also should use this week to point out that the scope of our infrastructure is much more expansive. A recent report shows that Michigan, with 192 sites, has by far the most PFAS contaminated sites in the country. And the Flint water crisis still has not been completely resolved after five years. Without serious attention paid to our water infrastructure, we will face a situation where the residents of this state will not have reliable access to clean, drinkable water.
The extreme cold this winter drew attention to an area often not thought of when we discuss infrastructure: energy. Increased demand during the polar vortex coupled with an explosion at a gas compression site threatened to overwhelm our natural gas delivery system.
Residents and businesses across the state, regardless of provider, were asked to decrease consumption by turning down their heat in an emergency request. Fortunately, a system-wide failure was avoided because enough people voluntarily turned down their thermostats. But seniors, children and the seriously ill faced the potential of having no heat at all as temperatures plummeted dangerously below zero.
Other infrastructure and safety issues to consider include: making our railways safe for passengers and the crossings safe for drivers, ensuring air travel is safe, and providing access to high-speed internet for everyone through sound telecommunications infrastructure.
There is plenty of infrastructure that needs to be maintained, repaired and improved. We have already seen with the roads that neglect and delay only cause the costs to increase. We simply cannot afford to ignore the fact that the cost of doing nothing, both in dollars and human safety, is too high.
Whitmer gets it. It’s time for the Michigan state legislature to take our safety seriously and work with her to create a plan to get the job done.
Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.