When speaking to young people about how to grow and prosper in this life, I am quick to say that the absolute best thing one can do is to invest in one’s self. There is no question that those who invest in their education, skills, family and community have the best opportunity to succeed. Each of us must have a core infrastructure in place and operating well in order to prosper. Our local communities, state and nation are no different.
America enjoys an unprecedented amount of success in large part because of the investments in infrastructure made by those who came before us. The infrastructure we rely on has been a catalyst for economic prosperity and a benefit to us all. Those benefits, however, now are threatened because our infrastructure has been neglected for far too long.
Two matters that require our immediate attention if we are to preserve our past infrastructure investments and harness our future potential. First, there exists a need to repair and rebuild our rapidly aging infrastructure of roadways, rail lines, water systems, bridges, etc. that are nearing or have exceeded their useful lifespan. Second, advancements in technology have created a necessity for new investments in broadband, energy generation/transmission, wireless communication systems and more.
Inaction is not a responsible option for either infrastructure investment group, despite the expense and inconvenience that will come from addressing this issue head on. Sadly, as a state we have long failed to keep up with the regular maintenance required to ensure longevity of our infrastructure investments. This has resulted in increased costs and greater disruption to our residents because of the need to rebuild rather than maintain our infrastructure. The current practice of “kicking the can” is both inadvisable and unsustainable.
In the near term, we must commit to addressing the urgent needs of our critical infrastructure.
The Eighth Street construction in Traverse City, though a very real and present inconvenience, is a local demonstration of that commitment. Despite the project’s significant expense and the inconvenience of losing a meaningful east/west road corridor during the high tourism season, community leaders and residents recognized that the work had to be done and are making the necessary sacrifices to accomplish it. Further, they have capitalized on the necessary construction by implementing a design that likely will leverage additional value to future users, residents and corridor businesses.
The American Society of Civil Engineers currently gives Michigan a “D+” grade for infrastructure. This should not be acceptable to any of us.
Moving forward, we must commit to more deliberate and consistent maintenance of the critical infrastructure that we rely on. For us to honor our past and compete in the future, we must embrace a smart asset revitalization approach that includes short term and long-term investment strategies that are built upon transparent, coherent, and fair plans for moving Michigan forward.
Bottom line: Let’s be proactive and deliberate when it comes to major investments that have lasting impacts.
To do so is undoubtedly going to require in part a commitment not only from policy makers but also from taxpayers, likely in the form of cuts to existing programs and additional revenues for reinvestment. Specific to roads, a recent report from the County Road Association of Michigan estimated that approximately $2 billion is needed for county road maintenance, repair and replacement.
Michigan Department of Transportation and others estimate that an at least an additional $2 billion is needed for state and federal trunk lines.
There is no aggregated cost to repair all city-owned streets in the state at this time, but conservatively we can estimate that the total cost to appropriately repair all roadways in Michigan exceeds $5 billion: A very tough pill to swallow, as it is a tremendous expense and one that addresses only a single piece of our infrastructure network.
Several potential options are being discussed in Lansing right now to deliver appropriate cost cutting, revenue, and delivery efficiencies to ensure that we don’t continue our infrastructure slide. None of the options will likely be popular as the costs are high and continue to grow.
The only other option is to continue to starve our infrastructure system, accept pothole-ridden roads, failing water systems, lack of connectivity and the economic and human costs that come with choosing not to invest in ourselves.
Matt McCauley is Chief Executive Officer of Networks Northwest.