Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 16, 2009

Op-Ed: Mich. infrastructure in 'dire straits"

You may well have known that Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate, that the state's largest industry is in major trouble and General Motors may go bankrupt.

You may even have known that the state is facing enormous budget deficits.

But now for the really bad news.

Michigan is falling apart. Literally.

The infrastructure, that is; the dams and bridges and water systems. Though it was virtually ignored by the state's media, the American Society of Civil Engineers' Michigan chapter released a report Tuesday that ought to have been front-page news. Basically, it said that the state's roads and bridges are in terrible shape. So are the storm water and sewage systems. They are all crumbling, and state government isn't even spending enough to stem the decline.

"What this report is saying is that America's infrastructure is in dire straits," said Kirk Steudle, the state transportation director.

"We're squandering our inheritance," he added. It is hard to imagine that anyone reading this report could disagree. Scariest of all, perhaps: The state's wastewater systems have lasted decades longer than anyone had reason to think they would.

According to Mike Thelen, the vice president of the engineering society, 90 percent of the dams in the state are within a decade of having outlasted the time they were supposedly good for.

He estimated it would cost $6 billion to bring the state's wastewater systems up to date. (Some of Detroit's sewer pipes date back to the Civil War era.) That may seem like a lot of money, especially when the state is flat broke.

Meanwhile this neglect is clearly, Thelen said, "putting Michigan citizens at risk." The billions needed to fix things may seem like a worthy sacrifice if the alternative is waking up some morning to basements full of raw sewage with no place to go.

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