Summit Shows Critical Need for Infrastructure Funding in Michigan is at a Crossroads

Michigan and the communities that comprise the Great Lakes State are at a veritable crossroads and will need to make drastic changes in funding in order to return the state’s infrastructure to one that can carry us into the next century. That message was loud and clear Tuesday as Governor Whitmer, local mayors and business leaders came together at the Midwestern Infrastructure Summit to discuss the urgent and critical need to invest in Michigan’s infrastructure. They fully recognize that the benefits of that investment include creating places that are more attractive to talent and business which are needed in order to survive.

The public summit was co-hosted by the Michigan Municipal League (MML) and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA), at Lansing Brewing Company, one of four such summits held nationwide during national Infrastructure Week.

Dan Gilmartin is Executive Director & CEO at the Michigan Municipal League. He told the group, “Our cities and our state are at a crossroads where we must make drastic funding changes for our infrastructures and our cities. This summit is an opportunity to discuss the issues and showcase what our leaders in the legislative and business community are doing to move Michigan forward.”

Although the state’s infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers was given a D+ rating last year, the discussion went beyond roads and bridges, noting that moving Michigan forward means more than just investing in infrastructure – it is investing in communities. On that level, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell led the discussion on the need to redesign the funding formula around local city investment.

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Hopewell told the summit, “You dive in and you fix it,” adding, “We have a major crisis and we still don’t understand the importance of the need for infrastructure.”

Both mayors emphasized the impact that a properly-funded infrastructure would have on smart placemaking strategies that improving the quality of life by creating walkable, bike able communities that attract young people and empty-nesters. They spoke of the challenges that mayors face while allocating budget between infrastructure, safety and building the quality of life through parks and recreation, with placemaking often suffering during tight budgets like Michigan cities have faced over the last 15 years.

Mike Nystrom, Executive Vice President of MITA, says, “We have systems around the state that are over 100 years old, we have to address these problems.” Nystrom discussed the importance of fully funding infrastructure projects now and that putting off projects will cause even higher costs in the future, funding that could go towards placemaking and creating desirable communities to live and work.

Nystrom contends it’s important that leaders educate the public and debunk myths around Michigan’s infrastructure problem and potential solutions. “For instance,” he says, “While many blame heavy trucks for highway failures, roughly 5-percent of trucks exceed the posted weight limits and many trucks don’t travel on roads with the worst quality.” He notes, too, that many Michiganders remain unaware how little they pay in taxes for roads.

Business leaders from Delta Dental, QuickenLoans and the Michigan AARP discussed the importance of investing in infrastructure in Michigan’s talent and business hubs to attract and retain population, workers and job creators. Residents, both young and old, are focused on walkability and transportation in the cities that they live in. Businesses take into account mobility of city centers when looking at site locations to invest in, with cities now taking an “all of the above” approach to make their communities more attractive to investors.

Mayors and community leaders continued to emphasize the importance of creating an environment that caters to both young professionals and empty-nesters, including infrastructure and the city and cultural amenities that are important to enhancing the quality of life.  The plans that are being developed today, cater to communities where the culture, residents and the needs of both, will continue to change.

Closing the summit, Governor Whitmer said it was Michigan’s people who led her to a strong position on fixing Michigan’s roads — leading to her proposed 45-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase to fund $2.5 billion of highway work across the state.

Whitmer told the summit, “It was made clear to me in a conversation that I was having with a couple of moms. I asked them, ‘What is the most important issue to you?’ Each of them said, ‘I just need you to fix the damn roads.’” She punctuated her message by telling the group, “We have the worst roads in the nation. Not because we don’t know how to build good roads but because we are not investing in them.”

As hosts of the summit, the Michigan Municipal League is dedicated to making Michigan’s communities better by thoughtfully innovating programs, energetically connecting ideas and people, actively serving members with resources and services, and passionately inspiring positive change for Michigan’s greatest centers of potential: its communities.

The League advocates on behalf of its member communities in Lansing, Washington, D.C., and the courts; provides educational opportunities for elected and appointed municipal officials; and assists municipal leaders in administering services to their communities through League programs and services. You can learn more online at mml.org.