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Why are Michigan's roads crumbling? Economist says it's because we collect less money to fix them

May 12, 2016

With pints in our hands, we talked about Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure Tuesday night at our Issues & Ale event.

Jack Lessenberry talks with Charles Ballard, Mike Nystrom, and Aarne Frobom.
Credit Steve Chrypinski

Host Jack Lessenberry spoke with experts from around Michigan. Together, they tried to find the source of the state’s infrastructure problems.

Expert Mike Nystrom represents the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association. The group represents the companies that are trying to rebuild the state’s bridges, sewers, roads and waterlines.

"The challenge is is that we've been putting a band-aid on when we've needed major surgery."

"The challenge is is that we've been putting a band-aid on when we've needed major surgery," says Nystrom.

Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill meant to fix the roads. Expert Aarne Frobom of the Michigan Department of Transportation said that bill is only “a little bit adequate.”

He said it slows the rate at which roads are falling apart, but that it doesn’t stop it.

Our third expert, Charles Ballard, is an economist and professor at Michigan State University. He said another problem in Michigan has to do with taxes. 

If the state were to tax more of the economy, Ballard said, it might be able to solve the infrastructure problem.

Listen to Ballard explain how tax collection has fallen in the Mitten State.

Ballard said the good news in Michigan right now is that the infrastructure problem is catching people’s attention.

He directs the State of the State Survey. This year people around the state said infrastructure is the number one problem facing the state Legislature.

"I wish it didn't take lead in the bodies of Flint children to get us to focus our attention."

“So the public does, fortunately, have some attention focused on it,” Ballard said. “I wish it didn’t take lead in the bodies of Flint children to get us to focus our attention.”

That focused attention might mean more investment in infrastructure in the years ahead.

Issues and Ale at the Beer Grotto in Lansing.
Credit Steve Chrypinski / Michigan Radio

You can listen to Jack Lessenberry’s take on the issue here. And for the full experience, you can listen to the whole Issues & Ale event here.

Interested in participating in our next Issues & Ale event?

Join us on June 1 at Bill’s Beer Garden in Ann Arbor when we'll talk about the Gelman dixone plume slowing moving under the city.