Michigan Considers Its $4 Billion Yearly Gap in Infrastructure Spending

Flint and its water crisis remain the shining examples of Michigan's infrastructure woes.

Flint and its water crisis remain the shining examples of Michigan's infrastructure woes.

 

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An infrastructure commission formed by Gov. Rick Snyder presented its findings on Monday, detailing the need for upgrades with the state's roads, waterworks and energy and communications systems.

Closing Michigan’s infrastructure investment gap would require about $4 billion in additional annual spending over the coming two decades.

That's according to a report presented Monday by a special commission Gov. Rick Snyder formed earlier this year. Michigan’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission included over 100 recommendations in the report meant to improve the state’s water, transportation, energy and communications systems.

The report recommends reassessments and shifts in how infrastructure is managed, planned and funded, while also calling for the integration of new technologies.  

“Our state’s infrastructure challenges are serious and wide-ranging, and we need to act with urgency to improve our infrastructure systems and make Michigan an even better place to live,” Snyder, a Republican, said in a statement on Monday.

Shortchanging infrastructure in the state has led to a situation where “poor conditions now require total reconstruction efforts instead of less costly maintenance programs,” the report says.

It also points out that, compared to neighboring states and the national average, Michigan devotes less state and local funding to capital infrastructure spending. The state funneled about 6.4 percent of its total spending in this direction between 2010 and 2014, according to the report, whereas the U.S. average was 10.2 percent.

(Source: Michigan's 21st Century Infrastructure Commission)

The report comes as President-elect Donald J. Trump has voiced support for substantial new infrastructure spending. His proposals would rely heavily on private sector investment.

Snyder first announced plans for the 27-member infrastructure commission in his State of the State address in mid-January. At the time, Michigan was grappling with the Flint water crisis, which unfolded when residents in the city were supplied with lead-poisoned tap water.

The commission's 188-page report notes: “The Flint water crisis has placed a national spotlight on the impacts of deteriorating infrastructure, declining population and system usage, fragmented decision making, and severe underinvestment in critical water infrastructure.”

Many of Michigan's water systems were built 50 to 100 years ago, according to the report. Some of the other facts and figures the commission highlighted include: an average of 5.7 billion gallons of untreated sewage has flowed into Michigan’s waterways annually since 2008; at least 1,200 bridges in the state are structurally deficient or obsolete; and 38 percent of the state’s roads are in poor condition.

In addition to calling for water, road, rail, marine and energy upgrades, the report recommends that Michigan take steps to become a “top-five state for broadband access and adoption.”

The commission also makes the case that infrastructure in Michigan is “siloed” between 619 separate road agencies, 79 transit agencies, 1,390 drinking water systems, 1,080 wastewater systems, 116 electric utilities, 10 natural gas utilities and 43 broadband providers.

Recommendations in the report targeting this issue include the creation of an “integrated asset management database system” and “a council to oversee long-term coordination and strategy.”

Where might the money come from to bridge the funding gap?

These are some options the commission mentioned in the report:

(Source: Michigan's 21st Century Infrastructure Commission)

The list is not meant to be all-inclusive and does not include sources like local user fees, federal funding or private investment.

One way to put the $4 billion figure in context is to compare it to state general fund revenues, which were projected to be $10 billion for fiscal year 2017 based on figures in Snyder's most recent executive budget.

According to the report: “Current taxes and user fees do not raise sufficient revenue and the state lacks sustainable funding sources to build infrastructure systems for today, as well as for the future.”

A full copy of the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission report can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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