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infrastructure

What if the issue with our infrastructure isn't that we're not spending enough, but that we've already spent too much and spent it the wrong way?
Wikimedia Commons

Across our state and across our country, we're talking about infrastructure: How it's failing, what that means, and what it's going to cost to fix.

What if the issue with our infrastructure isn't that we're not spending enough, but that we've already spent too much and spent it the wrong way?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

How much do you trust state government and its ability to do its job?

Courtesy of Lawrence Technological University

Detroit and Ann Arbor are dotted with buildings designed by Albert Kahn, one of the region’s celebrated architects.

He’s responsible for the Fisher Building in Detroit, Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor and the Highland Park Ford plant, to name only a few.

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his seventh State of the State address tonight. My guess is that not many people will watch or listen; with this speech, they hardly ever do.

Abraham Lincoln famously said at Gettysburg that “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here.”

Lincoln was as wrong as he could be about his own words.

Fraser home falling into the sinkhole.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

A busted sewer line could be to blame for the sinkhole in suburban Detroit that was discovered on Saturday, according to city officials.

The sinkhole that caused 22 homes in Fraser to be evacuated on Christmas Eve has residents and business owners concerned.

The stretch of 15 Mile Road between Hayes and Utica roads is largely being blocked off by police.

Dean Rabhi owns the Amsoil franchise on 15 Mile Road, a few blocks from the sinkhole, and he's worried the road closure could have the same effect as one in 2004, when a sinkhole happened less than a mile away.

Report shows declining road conditions in Michigan.
Michigan Infrastructure Commission

During his January 2016 State of the State address, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder apologized to the people of Flint for the water crisis in that city, saying "government failed you."

During that speech, he called for the creation of an independent commission to examine Michigan's infrastructure needs. He later signed an executive order creating the commission.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

If you've ever driven down a pot-hole strewn road, or needed  a filter just to drink your tap water in Flint, you know just how crappy parts of Michigan's infrastructure are right now. 

Now a special commission is expected to deliver a report to the governor next week, outlining what needs to be done to address the state's growing infrastructure needs.

Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo / Flickr

Grand Rapids and Flint are both in the spotlight in a new report on the sustainability of cities.

Researchers with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine looked at nine cities, including New York and Vancouver. All of them have sustainability plans in place.

Linda Katehi chairs the committee that wrote the report.

Detroit keeps flooding. What's being done about it?

Sep 29, 2016
Detroit residential street flooding.
Ahmad Hicks

Detroit is once again dealing with flash floods after an intense rainfall Thursday.

Infrastructure issues are a big part of why the area has experienced serious flooding multiple times in the past two years, most notably after a 2014 flood that caused damage across the metro Detroit area. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A special commission is studying what new infrastructure the state of Michigan will need 30 to 50 years from now.

Many Michigan communities are years behind in repairing and replacing aging sewer systems and crumbling bridges. It’s hard to think decades ahead, when you’re already so far behind.

MDOT / via Twitter

Major stretches of highway throughout Metro Detroit were flooded out Tuesday morning, after heavy rainfall Monday night.

That’s likely a “new normal” people will just have to deal with going forward.

It's Just Politics Logo
It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

With the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan to set the scene, Governor Snyder on Wednesday signed the new $38.8 billion state budget. 

There were some unexpected revenue shortfalls to deal with. State revenues came up more than $300 million short, largely due to corporate tax credits. There was also a $100 million spike in Medicaid payments. 

train tracks
Flickr user John Jarvis/Flickr / HTTP://MICHRAD.IO/1LXRDJM

A 20-year master plan for regional transit in Metro Detroit was unveiled today, after the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan spent over a year gathering input on the plan.

 

The goal is to help fix metro Detroit’s fractured transit systems and pull them together under the umbrella of a $4.6 billion plan to connect Detroit with Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.

 

Drawing of a pothole forming.
Paula Friedrich / Michigan Radio

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

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.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A report from the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association and Public Sector Consultants released last month outlines the state's water infrastructure issues. 

MITA leadership gave testimony to the Flint Water Public Health Emergency Select Committee, a joint committee headed by State Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, this week. 

Statewide, drinking water infrastructure is underfunded by anywhere between $284 million and $583 million. Stormwater and wastewater groundwork is short $2.14 billion, conservatively, according to the reoprt.

Imagine bringing Abraham Lincoln back to life today. What do you suppose he would find most shocking about life in today’s America?

Airplanes? Same-sex marriage? A black president?

Grocoff: "If we wish to sustain the climate to which we and all living things have adapted, then we need to design systems more like old growth forests and less like tree farms."
Jim Sorbie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Next Idea

If the first Industrial Revolution was characterized by centralization of our water, energy, food and organizational infrastructures, then the next Industrial Revolution will be characterized by the decentralization of these human-designed systems. Biomimicry, innovation inspired by nature, will be our framework for sustainable solutions to human challenges.

I have to confess I rolled my eyes when I heard yesterday that Governor Rick Snyder went to a Flint resident’s home and drank their filtered tap water in front of two reporters.

Publicity pictures were taken, and the governor, who left with several gallons of the stuff, pledged to drink Flint water for the next 30 days.

Several nasty thoughts entered my head. One was to wonder if this was one of the houses that didn’t have lead pipes.

One of Holland's heated sidewalks
flickr user Daniel Morrison / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Imagine, in the wake of a big snowstorm, city sidewalks and streets that never get caked with snow and ice. No salt, no slopping your way through slush or gingerly walking on ice.

That’s a luxury people in Holland, MI have been enjoying for some time now, thanks to their heated sidewalks and streets.

Michigan roads
User nirbhao / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A  new commission would help decide how to spend $165 million Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed for infrastructure fixes in Michigan.

On Thursday Snyder signed an executive order to create the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission.

The commission will be tasked with identifying long-term strategies and needs when it comes to Michigan's transportation, water and sewer, energy and communications systems.

NAACP President Cornell Brooks says "the way you can measure trust is when you have a timeline, a deadline and a price tag."
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The NAACP is giving Gov. Rick Snyder 30 days to come up with a “timeline, deadline and price tag” for fixing Flint’s water crisis.

After that, the national civil right organization is threatening “direct action” protests in Michigan.

National NAACP president Cornell William Brooks laid out a 20-point plan for Flint’s drinking water crisis. The plan includes repealing Michigan’s emergency manager law, free home inspections and a new ‘state of the art water system’ in Flint. 

Brooks says it's time Gov. Rick Snyder delivered a specific plan.

Guy Williams and Lester Graham
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Correction for the audio interview: 48217 is the most polluted ZIP code in Michigan (as stated), but the Delray neighborhood is in the neighboring ZIP code. It is the second most polluted.

The Flint water crisis has brought attention to a larger issue: why do we see more contamination and pollution issues in areas where poor people and, often, people of color live?

Flint’s water is just the tip of the iceberg. Flint has been an industrial city for generations, and still suffers from the lingering pollution left behind by over a century’s worth of factories. Much of the city’s housing was built using lead-based products like paint.

By now, everyone in the nation knows about Flint, the aging industrial city that was switched to water that turned out to be toxic, by an emergency manager whose main priority was to balance the books and save money.

But while this wasn’t technically a failure of infrastructure, there is no doubt that in many cities, especially older industrial towns like Flint, things like ancient water and sewer pipes, not to mention roads and bridges, are wearing out.

flickr user neetalparekh / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Mark “Puck” Mykleby is a retired Marine colonel who worked from 2009 to 2011 as an assistant to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen.

Mullen wanted a grand strategy for the nation. Not a military strategy, but something to encourage the kind of innovation and leadership he felt has been slipping away in the United States.

Mykleby left the Pentagon a little frustrated with Washington and figured he really needed to take the idea to the private sector.

Victor Li with a sample of his self-healing concrete
Victor Li

Michigan isn’t alone in the struggle to repair crumbling roads and bridges.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America's infrastructure a grade of "D" based on years of underfunding and delayed maintenance.

Victor Li may have the key to solving this nationwide struggle.

The University of Michigan civil and environmental engineering professor has invented self-healing concrete. It can bend, and if it cracks, it can repair itself.

Michigan drivers have become all too familiar with the dreaded pothole.
flickr user Michael Gil / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Drivers can all agree: Potholes are a fact of life here in Michigan. But does it have to be that way?

Jack Lessenberry’s recent opinion piece for Dome Magazine, Why Budapest Has Better Roads, examines Central Europe’s approach to infrastructure.

The difference, he says, would be shocking to Michiganders. “I drove hundreds and hundreds of miles on roads in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, former East Germany, without seeing anything we in Michigan would call a pothole,” he says.

Have you ever watched a movie where a snarky young computer hacker wreaks havoc with civic infrastructure, and wondered if it could happen in real life?

Well, a team of researchers researchers from the University of Michigan had that same question. So they looked into a scenario like this one, featured in the remake of The Italian Job:

"Was that really possible?” said Branden Ghena, who was on the research team. “Could you actually change the light colors? Is that a thing that can really happen, or are these systems as secure as we hoped they were?"

Turns out, the answer is yes – it really can happen.

By now coverage of last week’s Detroit area flooding has receded. For now, many of us have temporarily forgotten about how bad the potholes were last winter. We are trying, after all, to enjoy the last few days of summer.

However, roads, unlike little boys with scraped knees, don’t heal themselves.

When I was a kid I remember being told that the best thing you could do for a scraped knee was to spit on it.

This is actually not true. Most people know this by now, especially if you’ve ever taken a personal hygiene class. There are a lot more dangerous myths out there, however.

One of which is that we can’t afford to fix our infrastructure.

The fact is that in sheer dollars-and-cents terms we can’t afford not to. This weekend I talked to Jeff Cranson, the head of communications for MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation.

I asked him to help me get some hard, cold numbers about the cost of both repairing the roads and also the costs of not doing so.

They used to say that the definition of a recession was when your neighbor lost his job, and a depression was when you lost yours.

Well, after this week’s monumental Detroit-area rainstorm and flood, we now have a new definition for our dictionary of popular economics. You can say that wasteful government spending is when Washington or Lansing helps someone else.

Proper allocation of scarce resources is when they help -- you.

That may sound like a joke, but all too many people subconsciously feel that way.

You need only drive through the streets of communities like blue-collar Warren and more affluent Huntington Woods to get a sense of the scope of this week’s destruction.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has called on Washington for assistance, saying “if the federal government can help flood-damaged communities in various countries, I think they can help flood damage in the city of Warren.”

Good luck with that.

Last winter was the snowiest and one of the coldest ever in Metropolitan Detroit. Three days ago, the area was hit by an absolutely devastating rainstorm and the following floods.

We don’t know if these events were influenced by climate change. We do know that the infrastructure, from freeway ramps to storm drains, wasn’t adequate to deal with the problems.

Our roads were in urgent need of investment before this happened, and many are in worse shape now. For years, we’ve known that the water infrastructure in southeast Michigan was in need of major upgrading.

But we haven’t done any of it.  

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