infrastructure

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.

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.

Mike Russell / wikimedia commons

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.

 

 

user nirbhao / Flickr

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.

A bipartisan legislative workgroup has determined that keeping Michigan's roads useable will require an additional $1.4 billion a year.

In 10 years, that number grows to an estimated $2.6 billion.

Business and infrastructure groups have been pressuring the Michigan Legislature for years without success to come up with a way to raise more money for fixing and maintaining roads and bridges.

Representative Rick Olson says Michigan needs to more than double what it spends to maintain streets and highways:

“Well I think the bottom line of this study is, unless we spend this kind of money we’re either going to need to reconcile ourselves to poorer roads, or we’re going to need to be willing to pay even more in the future.”

 Olson says raising the gas tax would not go far enough in raising revenue to pay for roads. He says a larger and more permanent solution will need to be found to generate revenue. Olson and his Democratic counterpart have submitted their report to state House leadership.

 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Road work in Michigan has become more quick fixes than long-term repairs as the state balances the scope of construction projects with the dwindling funds necessary to carry them out. A five-year report shows transportation officials expect a drop of more than $700 million annually from what's being spent now in highway program funds beginning October 1st and stretching into the 2015 fiscal year.

The report points to a drop in state revenue and predictions that Michigan will not be able to put up enough matching money to secure all available federal aid for transportation projects.

Michigan's Five-Year Transportation Program invests just over $6 billion into highway and other programs. But upward of $160 million more in state revenue is needed each fiscal year to match all available federal aid.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is ready to launch a new series of fall initiatives, including measures to improve Michigan residents' health, fix crumbling roads and sewer systems and train
more people for available jobs.

He could unveil his health and wellness initiatives as early as next week. The Republican governor plans to lay out a roads plan in October and a way to better tap Michigan workers' talents in
November.

Snyder has been focused on "reinventing" Michigan since he took office in January, and doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon.

But he could be distracted this fall by a flurry of bills being pushed by fellow Republicans, such as making Michigan a right-to-work state and outlawing a late-term abortion procedure that's already illegal through a federal law.

Julie Falk / Flickr

Update:

Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation for bridge condition according to a new report released on national bridge conditions. The report says 1,400 bridges in Michigan are in critical condition and are deteriorating in some way.

Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says most bridges in Michigan are about 40 years old, and bridges are built to last 50 years.

“We take a slightly different approach with that 50 years, and say that with the right kind of maintenance and preventative maintenance, we can extend that life indefinitely.”

“Well, indefinitely to a point where there’s really nothing more financially responsible to do other than replace the bridge.”

“Our first and foremost responsibility is to make sure that the infrastructure that people are driving on, the bridges they’re driving on, are safe.”

“And if there is a condition that warrants it as immediately unsafe, the bridge will be closed immediately.”

“The bridges that are out there, that people are driving on right now, including all of us, are safe. If the bridge is open, the bridge is safe.”

“It’s been inspected by our bridge engineers, and we take that very seriously and if there’s something that needs to be taken out of service, it will be taken out of service immediately and fixed and adjusted.”

Representatives from Transportation for America, who released the study, say federal support is needed to fix a backlog of bridge issues. They say it will cost about 226 dollars per driver to make sure bridges remain safe and drivable.

Steudle and representatives from Transportation for America say they understand that there is a focus right now on less government spending. But, they say, safety needs to be a priority over budget cuts.

-Laura Weber

1:01 p.m.:

How many bridges do you cross in a day?

However many you cross, it is possible that some of those bridges might be part of the 13% of state bridges that are "structurally deficient."

In a survey of national statistics, the Associated Press found that Michigan came in with the 13th worst bridge statistics.

From the Detroit Free Press:

More than 13% of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, a number that will only rise as thousands of spans statewide approach their expected 50-year life expectancy, transportation leaders said today.

With about 1,400 bridges ranked structurally deficient, Michigan ranks 13th worst in the nation in the number of bridges in poor condition, according to a report released this morning by Transportation for America, a national transportation advocacy group. The national average is 11.5%.

The average age of Michigan’s bridges is 41 years. The group said nationwide, it would cost $70 billion to upgrade deficient bridges. About 185,000 U.S. bridges are 50 or older, and that number could double by the year 2030.

This news comes on the heels of another big announcement about the long-awaited new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC).

From an MLive article from last Tuesday:

Governor Rick Snyder is expected, in the next two weeks, to submit a new bill to the Michigan legislature authorizing construction of the new Detroit-Windsor bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Lansing.

One of the most significant changes between Snyder’s NITC proposal and the DRIC bill that died in the state Senate last year is the removal of MDOT from the process.  A special authority established to govern the bridge replaces the state agency in the legislation. According to Crain’s Detroit’s Bill Shea, shifting control away from MDOT is seen as an effort to win support among GOP lawmakers.

The removal of MDOT from the equation is one of the significant changes between the NITC proposal and Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bill that stalled in the Michigan Senate in 2010.

Of course, what we really need is some kind of Michigan Acronym Awareness Association (MAAA).

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Charge Point charging station for electric vehicles
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

West Michigan will get 50 free public charging stations through a program funded by the federal stimulus program. The first one in downtown Grand Rapids is now up and running. It’s one of only a handful on the west side of the state. The other two are in Holland and a fourth is set to come online soon in Muskegon.

The inside of Michigan Central Train Station
Albert Duce / Creative Commons

My Dad grew up in Detroit in the 1930s. He described a city humming with activity: factory whistles sounding, street cars rolling by, and broad sidewalks crowded with people.

We went back to his old neighborhood several years ago.  His house was on Lakeview Avenue.

It's gone now, along with the houses on most of the block. I was left to imagine his childhood home, and the stickball games he'd play in the alley, by trying to extract mental images from the remaining concrete slabs we could see.

A map of pipelines crisscrossing the United States
USDOT

Congress held hearings today on the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports that one top official was conspicuously abset from the hearings. Cynthia Quarterman recused herself from the oil spill hearings, because she used to work for Enbridge Energy Partners.