Lansing dozes as infrastructure crumbles


Michigan routinely chooses to react to crisis after crisis instead of properly funding infrastructure systems that keep our communities safe

Mike Nystrom

Mike Nystrom is executive vice president of the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association, the organization leading the Fix MI State campaign.

In multiple stories over the past year, Bridge Magazine has focused on shameful and alarming examples of Michigan’s aging, failing and overwhelmed infrastructure. Sadly, as one Bridge headline so accurately noted, our Legislature’s answer has been “ignore everything.”


When it comes to Michigan’s infrastructure, our state routinely chooses to react to crisis after crisis instead of properly funding infrastructure systems that keep our communities safe and healthy, that protect our state’s lakes, rivers and drinking water, and that are essential to economic prosperity.

We can’t seem to learn a simple lesson: Ignoring Michigan’s infrastructure needs has massive human and economic consequences.

When we neglect our state’s aging infrastructure – our stormwater and wastewater sewer systems, drinking water systems, dams, and road and bridges – we jeopardize the health and public safety of our communities.

On Christmas Eve last year, a sinkhole caused by a major sewer line affected more than 500,000 Macomb County residents. It is estimated the repairs will cost $70 million.

In April, flooding in Grand Rapids after several weeks of heavy rains led to a backup in the treatment system plant, causing 38 million gallons of partially treated sewage to overflow and spill into the Grand River.

This past June, heavy rain across Mid-Michigan caused historic flooding and widespread damage to public infrastructure and private property totaling more than $100 million.

And no community understands this better than Flint, where 100,000 residents were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water caused, in part, by a colossal failure to fix worn-out infrastructure. For some, the consequences were deadly.

Frequent boil water advisories in Michigan communities, including just last week in Oakland County caused by a water main break that resulted in school closings and cancelled hospital surgeries, suggest another water crisis is looming.

The Governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission report released last December, followed one month later by a report from Business Leaders for Michigan, estimates the state needs to invest $4 billion more per year over the next 20 years to meet Michigan’s infrastructure needs. Yet as we look around Michigan, we find example after example of systems that need replacement or repairs, without any plan from Lansing to do so.

Michigan’s Drinking Water Systems

There is a huge investment gap in how much we spend – compared to what is needed – to properly fund the systems that help provide clean drinking water to Michigan residents and businesses and meet the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Michigan needs to increase investments in maintaining drinking water systems by $284 million to $563 million a year—not including improvements that need to be made in Flint.

Michigan’s Stormwater and Wastewater Systems

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates Michigan needs more than $2 billion in fixes to our stormwater and wastewater systems alone. Right now, municipalities, counties and utility authorities are spending $800 million a year less than what is necessary to maintain these systems.

Michigan’s Dams

Funding for Michigan’s aging dams is reaching crisis proportions. A 2009 study estimates that 120 Michigan dams need at least $50 million for repairs or rehabilitation. This is disconcerting, considering more than 90 percent of Michigan’s 2,581 dams will reach or exceed their design life by 2020.

A dam failure can threaten public safety and the environment and cause catastrophic economic damage. We’ve seen this happen before in 2003 when Silver Lake Dam in the U.P. breached, causing more than $100 million in damages to roads, bridges and other property. Recently, a 113-year-old dam in Paw Paw was breached after rainstorms brought six inches of rain.

Fixing the Problem

It’s time to demand that our federal, state and locally elected officials make improving our infrastructure the most important issue in our state, or our Pure Michigan summers will be a thing of the past.

To learn more and to stay informed about efforts to fix Michigan’s infrastructure, visit and sign up for the regional newsletter.

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Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:18pm

A topic of discussion in Lansing is whether people should be called "Michiganders" or "Michiganians". While our infrastracture crumbles the state legislature is talking about trivial nonsense like this. It is just so typical.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:21pm

"Sadly, as one Bridge headline so accurately noted, our Legislature’s answer has been “ignore everything.”

I wholeheartedly agree 100% with Mr. Nystrom's assessment.

And in his position at MITA, he wouldn't be doing his job to promote more work for its members if he hadn't said it.

The issue now is where do we go from here?

Just like everything else in life, choices need to be made. The problem here is that the right choices haven't being made. And that likely isn't going to change in the foreseeable future.

For example, in Fraser, local communities had been paying water bills which had included a portion going towards maintenance and upkeep. That never happened. Sadly, legal chicanery prevented the issue from being settled once and for all.

Michigan Motorists pay 6% sales tax when they fill up at the pump. State government takes that money ($1-billion+/year) and throws it into the general fund rather than towards roads.

Claiming a "shortfall", Lansing proposes a shakedown (Proposal 1) to pay for the things it should've been paying for all along with the monies collected. It gets nuked at the ballot. Lansing unilaterally imposes the taxes and fees anyway.

Yes, things are falling apart, but it's because the elected class here in Michigan lacks the will power to do the job that they were hired to do in the first place and prioritizes its spending.

Until that problem gets addressed, nothing will change.

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 12:33pm

Michigan is one of very few if any states that simultaneously charge gas tax and sales tax on your fuel purchase, does not credit the sales tax on your trade in's value, as well as the well covered and costly insurance scheme, not that these ideas are bad or good. But this seeming war on automobiles makes it hard to believe we're the home of the domestic car industry!

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 3:32pm

mike, you forgot to mention suburban sprawl

don sepaanski
Sat, 11/04/2017 - 2:46am

All you folks want is more taxes from regular taaxpaayers. There is too much taxpayer money spent on crony capitalism. Stop any and all tax breaks for billionaires. End tax breaks to prperty owwners in downtown Detroit.

Garnet Lewis
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 5:18am

The problem for our electeds seems to be, how to pay for it? If you could provide that solution, we might see some more definitive action from our legislature. Say it.

Joel A. Levitt
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 6:27am

Once again, we get what we deserve.

The majority of Michigan Voters want our taxes to be held down or even to be reduced. We refuse to honor previous generations' struggles to build our state by using our money to maintain and improve its infrastructure and its educational system. Instead, we indulge in the conspicuous consumption of frivolous luxuries.

Our Republican legislators are only a symptom; we are the pathogens.

mary therese lemanek
Sat, 03/24/2018 - 12:40pm

The legislators have provided poor leadership in large point as a response to the desire of citizens to have low taxes and corporations to have a business friendly atmosphere. There is no way to have the infrastructure and services in the absence of funding. We are facing massive costs because of years of unwillingness to live responsibly.

Mike Michalski
Sun, 11/05/2017 - 5:44pm

Pull out your calculators, boys and girls - let's figure out how to solve Michigan's money problems. Per the IRS's figures, in 2011 there were 107,636 Tax returns filed with income over $200,000. They averaged $460,000 each. Because we put it in our constitution that we will be a Flat Tax state, we can not tax the $260,000 excess a higher rate - like all of out neighbor states do. If we amended that clause to allow an additional 3% tax on that excess income, we would collect an extra $ 839,560,800 in taxes! That's PER YEAR! In 5 years we would have a total of OVER $4 Billion to fix our infrastructure & properly fund our schools and Cities. Too bad we believed the wealthy people's lie that a flat tax is fair!

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 12:54pm

And if we raised the tax to 100% of all income above $260K just think how much we could collect! Why not start highest tax rate much lower point, as do most states who graduate rates? Isn't it only fair to get free college for all, good roads, and rainbows! What will be the cost of higher income people switching state of residences?

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 8:03am

One must question the assumption that this is a state or federal problem or a local problem and then who should bear the expense of maintaining these systems. We hear the constant whine that the locals can't afford to maintain the projects they built as if maintenance is some kind of unforeseeable surprise yet a very few minutes perusing the directory of any mid to large city will likely display a long list of ancillary and extraneous offices boards and departments that they have no problem finding the money to fund.

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 8:52pm

The issue is being framed wrong!
The first reality that is being ignore is that all of the article [including this one] have said the same thing about infrastructure, whining about lack of spending, and nothing has changes. So why does anyone saying this expect anything will change? Don't people get it, not matter how loud and how often and even who is saying it truly doesn't matter. Are they saying to hear themselves say it or are they trying to impress others who like hearing?
People get tired and ignore what is said after a few iterations with not improved results, and we have heard this whine for years. People are ignoring it.
We have hear about the money for generations on this issue and every other issue, we are tire and spending more has never delivered expected results.
If anyone truly wants to change the issue, get the moneys spent on infrastructure, they must reframe the issue, they must quit the whining and trying to get into other people's wallet. The change in message is easy, is proven, and will deliver results, but it takes people, like the author, to be willing to listen and change.
The final reality is that none of the whiners are willing to listen or are willing to change. The test that proves it is how many ask.

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 9:20pm

I apologize if this is a repeat of a message I just sent, but when I clicked save it took me to the top of the article and made no mention of waiting for staff to read it before posting. What is most disappointing is it was one of my most eloquent comments.

The first reality being missed, people get tired and ignore after hearing the same message more than a few times with no change in results, this is especially true when it is about spending more of their money.
We have been hearing this whine for years upon years, money had been spent nothing has changed and the whining simply grows. People are ignoring the whiners and their message.
The next reality is that if what you are saying hasn’t changed anything and you keep saying the same things you have met the definition of ‘insanity’ [see Albert Einstein].
If people want to change the results then they need to reframe the issue, they need to change the expectations, they need to describe a way that spending on infrastructure will improving things in a personal way for the reader/audience.
The third reality is that the whiners are never willing to change so they get what they have always gotten, and they won’t listen. A test of this reality will be how many people even risk asking let alone are willing to listen.
The changes are obvious, they are proven, and they deliver results.