State’s infrastructure initiative is encouraging

We fully understand that Michigan’s struggling economy is not providing an ideal time for an enormously expensive program to revamp our state’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure.


But Michigan can’t afford not to do it.


Another of many negative reports was issued last week, this one by the American Society of Civil Engineers/Michigan. It was more of the same. The report gives D grades to the condition of the state’s public transit, storm water and drinking water systems, electric grids and dams. Aviation, energy, navigable waterways and wastewater collection systems fared better, but received only a C.


According to the report, 38 percent of roads are in poor condition and 28 percent of bridges are deficient.


That assessment should come as no surprise to most Michigan citizens, especially motorists who use our highways and local streets. We have seen increasing evidence of such deficiencies.


The condition of roads and bridges in Michigan is getting worse, causing costly damage to vehicles and posing potential danger to motorists.


Fortunately, this troubling issue is getting considerable attention from our lawmakers. One measure that caught our attention has been introduced in the Legislature and has bipartisan support.


State Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, who is House speaker pro tem and chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, has a key role in shepherding the plan through the legislative process. She has been working with state Sen. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, a former member of a legislative task force studying Michigan’s transportation infrastructure, its needs and ways to finance it.


Other sponsors include: Democrats Andrew Kandrevas of Southgate, Lee Gonzales of Flint and Marie Donigan of Royal Oak. Republican backers are Matt Lori of Constantine, Richard Ball of Bennington Township in Shiawassee County, and Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City.


The legislation calls for raising the vehicle registration fees by about 90 percent, and increasing the fuel tax from 19 cents to 34 cents. These changes would take place over a five-year period.


During that time, the funding package would include doubling the revenue available for roads, bridges and public transit, and enabling the state to continue to raise sufficient funds to fully match available federal funds.


These resources would be separate from money Michigan is receiving under the Obama administration’s controversial $787 billion stimulus legislation that squeaked through Congress in February.


Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, put it plainly. “We’re squandering our inheritance,” Steudle said. “What this report is saying is that America’s infrastructure is in dire straits.”


It has long been obvious that Michigan must diversify its economy. Those efforts are under way, with emphasis on major job growth in areas such as alternative energy, the life sciences, homeland security and advanced manufacturing, among others.


If Michigan’s taxpaying citizens and its business and industry communities can support an initiative to repair the state’s infrastructure, it would be an investment in the future and, ultimately, serve their own well-being.


The bottom line is that companies considering relocating to Michigan, or those deciding whether to remain here, take a hard look at our transportation system, natural resources such as water, and the infrastructure.


We’ve got the raw material. Now we must find ways to restore it to a sound and satisfactory status.