Opinion: Michigan needs to get real on roads

John Hiltz

Michigan is like a driver stuck in the middle of a dangerous intersection. We need to move in a safer direction. But we require information to make an informed decision, the resolve to act decisively, and enough fuel in the tank to get off the mark in time to avoid a catastrophic collision.

That perilous intersection is our state’s infrastructure, both above and below ground. The increase in spending needed to bring Michigan’s roads and bridges up to a safe standard is a whopping $2.5 billion dollars annually, according to several infrastructure reports.

Potholes under a train bridge over Northwood, near Galpin in Royal Oak, Michigan on February 4, 2019.

Though astounding, that cost only takes into consideration above-ground infrastructure. Factor in water and sewer infrastructure needs, and the total jumps to approximately a $4 billion shortfall per year.

It’s time to get real – clearly, it’s an expensive problem to fix, but it’s getting more expensive by the day because of our inaction.

John Hiltz

We may like to think that we’re not already paying for the poor condition of our state’s infrastructure, but that’s a mistake. The crumbling roads that bend axles and break struts cost each Michigan driver an extra $564 annually in car repairs on average. In addition, the cost for water main breaks, sinkholes, and flooding and sewer backups get passed along to ratepayers through additional increases.

Getting honest and taking action

Leave a leaky roof unattended and your problem grows to include to drywall and flooring issues. Neglecting our evident infrastructure problems has the same type of impact. With each passing day, the cost to fix Michigan’s infrastructure grows exponentially, boosted by accelerating deterioration and growing material and labor costs.

Fixing our roads and bridges will only get more expensive for each year that we delay. Every $1 spent on pavement preservation when a road is in fair condition eliminates or delays the spending of $6 to $14 on reconstruction when a road is in very poor condition. The percentage of Michigan roads that are in poor condition is expected to double in the next five years.

We need an additional $2.5 billion per year in dedicated funding to bring 90% of our roads and bridges to fair or good condition within 10 years. Spending less than that is only putting a band aid on a gaping wound. Without this level of spending, we will not control the ‘bleeding’ of our infrastructure and consequently, our issues will continue to get bigger and more expensive.

Sending the right message

We continue to offer a mixed message to our legislators. Yes, we all want safe drinking water, reliable sewers, storm drain protection and better roads and bridges. However, the majority of us oppose cost increases that permit us to pay for these things that we want.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the delays in making a decision on how to fix our infrastructure have cost all of us, and further delays will only increase that cost. Given that the federal government is no longer a strong financial partner to help fund local and state infrastructure projects, this unfortunately is our burden to bear.

Therefore, we must be consistent with our legislators and tell them that we want to invest in our infrastructure now, and invest at a level that will truly correct the underlying problems. Investing now will cost each of us less over time, and these investments will create sound, strong infrastructure that benefits Michigan residents and our economy for the next several decades.

Inaction is an action, but it’s not one that our state can afford to take any longer.

John Hiltz is president of Livonia-based community advancement firm OHM Advisors, a community advancement firm providing award-winning architecture, engineering and planning services to municipalities, developers, institutions and private companies.