WUOMFM

infrastructure

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.

Cracked and broken roads
nirbhao / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

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.  

MDOT / via Facebook

Metro Detroit got hit with a record-breaking burst of rain Monday night—up to six inches in some spots.

The deluge left highways flooded, motorists stranded and thousands of basements swamped.

As the waters receded, it was time to clean up and assess the damage. Here’s a report from one of the hardest-hit areas: southeast Oakland County.

The state's busiest interchange, underwater

The I-75/696 interchange is the right at the heart of Metro Detroit’s freeway system—the busiest interchange in the state.

Lex Dodson / via Instagram

Late yesterday afternoon, it started raining hard over much of southeast Michigan.

When it finally let up over 3 hours later, a record-breaking 4.57 inches of rain had fallen at Detroit Metro Airport. Some spots got even more.

According to WDIV meteorologist Paul Gross, it was “one of the heaviest single rainfall totals in Detroit weather history.”

The National Weather Service had anticipated heavy afternoon showers, and warned of possible flooding in some areas.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science / University of Michigan

Jeffrey P. Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, recently turned a few heads with his announcement that within a few years he expects deliveries to your home courtesy of unmanned aerial vehicles — also known as drones.

It’s been predicted that by 2025, there could be 175,000 of these UAVs in United States airspace — ranging from teeny, tiny nano-sized UAVs to a full-sized, pilotless airplane hauling cargo for UPS.

Development of these drones are popping up everywhere, including right here in Michigan. SkySpecs, a start-up coming out of the University of Michigan, is developing new ways to use UAVs — creating drones that can inspect everything from bridges to wind turbines and make sure these structures are safe.

We talked to Danny Ellis, the CEO of SkySpecs.

Listen to the full interview above.

If you’ve driven on any Metro Detroit’s major highways recently, you may have spent some time in the dark.

That’s because the region’s highways have been plagued by some recurring power outages.

The outages have hit most major highways in and around the city, especially portions of I-94 and I-96.

In some cases, whole stretches of highway have repeatedly gone completely dark.

Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi said MDOT has removed some streetlights because they were old and unsound, and lost others to accidents.

But Morosi says the bigger issue is thieves who target transformer cabinets beside the highways, particularly for their copper wire--which can be sold for scrap.

“And we’re seeing an increase in copper theft in and around the metro Detroit area, and most of these lighting outages can be attributed to that theft,” Morosi said.

Morosi says MDOT is trying to fix the problems, but funding is tight and repairs are expensive.

“At this point in time, funding is an issue for this department,” Morosi said. “Infrastructure investment is obviously something we’re keeping a close eye on, and we’re hoping something can be done in Lansing.”

MDOT officials also hope proposed legislation to crack down on scrapyards will help out.

Morosi says it’s difficult to put a price tag on fixing the problem because “it’s such a moving target.”

Nearly all major freeways have been affected, and Morosi estimates as many as 20 percent of the freeway lights around Metro Detroit aren’t working for one reason or another.

satellite map of Michigan, the Great Lakes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Governor Rick Snyder says emergency actions are necessary to address low water levels in the Great Lakes.

The lakes are at their lowest levels in decades.

Snyder says that could be a big threat to Michigan’s harbors.

“There’s going to be a need to do some, what I would describe as emergency dredging, to make sure we keep it open for commerce, for tourism, for many other issues. And that’s something we need to be discussing,” Snyder said.

Jim Wallace / flickr.com

A new bridge crossing connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario will create more than 8,000 permanent jobs, according to a new study.

The study comes from the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research, an industry-sponsored group.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman says Michigan’s higher education institutions will make a strong bid for federal grants to develop the infrastructure to support alternative energy vehicles.

“The president just announced a $1 billion commitment back on Friday and, believe me, we at the University of Michigan and Michigan State and Wayne State and other also with some of our other universities will be front and center to try and get some of that money,” said Coleman.

Coleman was on a panel in Lansing talking about the re-invention of the state’s economy.

The federal grants will go toward making 10 to 15 communities across the country models for how to create the infrastructure for cars and trucks powered by electricity, the sun, natural gas or some other alternative energy source.

Coleman says the cooperative arrangement between Michigan’s three big research universities makes the state a strong contender.

Ingham County

Legislation that would allow counties to scrap their road commissions is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

Once the governor signs the bills, it would be up to county commissions to decide whether to get rid of their road commissions, and take over their responsibilities.

The bills cleared the state House today along largely party-line votes.

State Representative Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) voted against the measures.

She says it would be too easy for county commissions to divert money currently used for plowing and repairs to other purposes.

“I have sincere concerns about what will happen if the county road commissions are absolved into the county board and what will happen to those road funds,” said Byrum. “Currently, they’re designated to be used on roads but, I just - I have some serious concerns.”

But State Representative Dale Zorn (R-Ida) says county commissions won’t abolish their road commissions unless it makes financial sense.

“Because that, I believe it will work in some counties. In some counties, it won’t be as advantageous for them to do,” explained Zorn. “It really depends on how much money is being paid in the cost of administrative services.”

Road commissioners say the legislation puts too much local politics into road management.

user orinzebest / Flickr

Voters may soon decide whether Michigan should scrap the 19-cents-per-gallon tax on gas at the pump in favor of a sales tax increase of 1 percent.

The change would help generate more money for transportation funding.

A proposal to put the question to voters is gaining momentum with some legislative leaders.

That change would require a constitutional amendment and put the question to voters on the ballot.

Republican state Senator Howard Walker sponsored the measure. He said if taxpayers are asked to pay more to fix the state’s roads, they should have a voice.

Lawmakers at the state Capitol are considering options to help raise more than $1 billion in additional revenue to fix and maintain Michigan’s bridges and roads. Governor Rick Snyder called on the Legislature to find the money for the state’s aging infrastructure.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said lawmakers should be able to find the additional funds without raising taxes.

user Want2Know / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder met with lawmakers, federal officials and the railroad industry yesterday to talk about the future of rail transportation in our state.

Rick Pluta is the State Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He was at the Michigan Rail Summit and he joined me to talk more about this.

So Rick, what did the Governor say?

Rick Pluta: Rebecca, the governor is a big fan of rail service. He says it's a big part of the future of the state.

This is what he had to say to this rail summit:

"This isn't about a piece of rail in Michigan. This is about being the centerpiece of a broader logistical connection that goes all the way from St. Louis to Chicago to Detroit and I would like to see it continue on to Toronto and to Montreal."

user joeldinda / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder says improving passenger and freight rail service is "vital to Michigan's future."

He made the remarks in a statement shortly before giving the keynote address Monday during the Michigan Rail Summit at the Lansing Center.

Top federal and state transportation officials, elected officials and experts also will speak.

Snyder says improving passenger and freight rail service "paves the way" for growth in agriculture and manufacturing, enhances property values and stimulates local economies.

He says Michigan is well positioned to become a major transportation hub linking the economies of Canada other Midwestern states "so that the entire region benefits." Nearly 800,000 passengers rode Amtrak trains in Michigan during the last fiscal year, a record.

user ardee4 / Flickr

The director of the Michigan Department of Transportation said he’s already at work on Governor Rick Snyder’s proposals to fix and maintain the state’s bridges and roads.

Snyder’s plans include generating more than $1 billion in additional revenue each year for road maintenance, and using advanced technology to strengthen bridges.

Transportation Director Kirk Stuedel said he discussed the governor’s proposals yesterday with his bosses at the state Transportation Commission.

“They set the policies for the department, and we’re going to be following up with the committee chairs saying ‘It’s about time to be putting our budget together, and our budget is going to be focused a lot around the things that are in this message,’” Steudel said.

Governor Snyder put forth a bold new message on infrastructure a couple days ago. What he said immediately won praise from columnists and editorial pages across the state.

As a matter of fact, the governor’s plan is being enthusiastically supported by nearly everybody who understands how desperate a shape Michigan’s roads and bridges are in.

I looked at the details of the governor’s proposal when it was unveiled, but deliberately decided to refrain from saying anything about it until it was clear what the reaction would be.

The Ambassador Bridge
Mike Russell / Wikimedia Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder said the state needs to invest more money in its roads and bridges, and he said he’ll continue to push for a new, publicly owned bridge linking Detroit and Canada.

Snyder made the remarks in a special message to the Legislature today.

He said a new international bridge will help create jobs and more markets for Michigan products.

“We’ve had some setbacks, but again, following my philosophy of relentless positive action we are going to stay relentless because I believe it’s in the best interest of all our citizens… You couldn’t find a better partner in the world than to partner with our neighbors in Canada and build a bridge,” said Snyder.

Governor Snyder wants lawmakers to find nearly $1.5 billion in additional revenue to help pay for road and bridge repairs and maintenance.  He says one way to fund that would be to eliminate the 15-cent fuel tax at the pump in exchange for a wholesale gasoline tax.

Screen shot

Governor Rick Snyder gave an address on infrastructure today at Southfield's Lawrence Technological University. His plan focuses on improving Internet access, roads, and sewer systems.

Here to take a look at what was mentioned and what was left out are Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

 

 

Cracked and broken roads
nirbhao / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

In a speech today directed toward the Michigan Legislature, Governor Snyder expressed his desire to improve just about every bit of infrastructure in the state.

Roads, bridges, airports, ports, rail, water lines, sewage pipes, and broadband Internet connectivity - it was all on the table, and the Michigan Governor said the state's infrastructure was suffering from a lack of investment.

The Governor said the state's economic recovery is tied to investing in all these bits of infrastructure, and that there is "no time to waste."

user ardee4 / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder will deliver an address in Southfield tomorrow on improving roads and other infrastructure.

Geralyn Lasher is the governor’s communications director. She said the address will touch on a wide variety of topics that are critical to improving the state’s economy and protecting public health.

Pages