Michigan’s 2018 infrastructure report card: D+

SLIDESHOW: Here are Michigan’s infrastructure grades from 2009 to 2018

Roads and bridges were grouped in the same category in 2009

2009: included in “Public Transportation” category

Roads and bridges were grouped in the same category in 2009

New for 2018

Bridge photo by Kurt Koban

Bridge photo by Nancy Derringer

Stop us if you’ve heard this before.

Michigan’s roads are in terrible shape. Bridges are crumbling faster than the state can afford to fix them. Systems that provide clean drinking water are too old and damaged to fully withstand stress from age, pollution and demand.

Those are among the conclusions of civil engineers on Michigan’s aging infrastructure, according to a new, detailed report released Tuesday.

Related: Where they stand: Michigan governor candidates’ infrastructure policies 
Issue Guide: Michigan needs $4B more per year for infrastructure, but how to pay for it?

The kicker: The state’s infrastructure has barely improved in nine years, since the height of the recession, signaling that Michigan’s failure to invest enough money to maintain bridges, roads, drinking water and wastewater treatment has left the state’s internal systems on the brink of failure. That is, unless lawmakers boost funding and look for innovative solutions to better allocate scarce resources.

Michigan’s infrastructure earned an overall grade of D-plus on a new scorecard by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Michigan section. That’s slightly better than the D letter grade it earned in 2009, the last time the engineers released a detailed report card for the state.

Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have been issued updated infrastructure report cards since 2013, according to the engineering society. Of them, Michigan ranks the worst, with Arkansas, Louisiana and New Jersey also earning a D-plus grade.

Michigan a bottom dweller on infrastructure

Michigan tied for the worst score (D+) awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers among 27 states graded on infrastructure since 2013. Here is how other states, plus Washington, D.C., fared, and the year rated:

  • Alabama 2015 C-
  • Alaska 2016 C-
  • Arizona 2015 C
  • Arkansas 2014 D+
  • Florida 2016 C
  • Georgia 2014 C
  • Idaho 2018 (to be released March 8) N/A
  • Illinois 2018 C-
  • Iowa 2015 C-
  • Kansas 2013 C-
  • Louisiana 2017 D+
  • Maine 2016 C-
  • Michigan 2018 D+
  • Missouri 2013 C-
  • Montana 2014 C-
  • Nevada 2014 C-
  • New Hampshire 2017 C-
  • New Jersey 2016 D+
  • New York 2015 C-
  • North Carolina 2013 C
  • Oklahoma 2013 C-
  • Pennsylvania 2014 C-
  • Tennessee 2016 C
  • Texas 2017 C-
  • Utah 2015 C+
  • Vermont 2014 C
  • Virginia 2015 C-
  • Washington, DC 2016 C-

Perhaps not surprising, Michigan’s roads had the worst grade among all the categories our state was rated on. They’re not technically failing, but close — Michigan’s roads earned a grade of D-minus. No individual state infrastructure system earned better than a C-plus.

“Michigan residents, business owners and policymakers must decide how much we value the personal and economic advantages that come from a modern, safe and efficient infrastructure network,” the engineers’ group wrote.

Meaningful upgrades, ASCE wrote, require innovative policies, including the creation of a statewide council that can develop a smart, long-range roadmap for tackling bridge supports, sewage overflows and other threats to residents’ health and safety — in other words, the unsexy but critical maintenance Lansing has often ignored, until an emergency forces the state to address it.

“Just as you change your car’s oil regularly, we must replace pipeline(s), repair dams, fix bridges, remove old dams, and fill in potholes as needs arise,” the report scolded the state.

Finding a permanent funding solution for roads and other costs has proven elusive. Gov. Rick Snyder signed a road-funding package in 2015 passed by the Republican-led Legislature that would generate $1.2 billion for roads and bridges by 2021. Half will come from new revenue through higher gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, while the other half will be diverted from the roughly $10 billion general fund.

Democrats and other critics say that plan is inadequate and won’t raise enough money to fix all of the roads in bad shape. Lawmakers last week agreed to advance $175 million in emergency road funding this year, while another $150 million is scheduled to come out of the general fund in 2019.

Members of Michigan’s Legislature, and some candidates for governor have called for tax cuts or for working with existing revenue to address infrastructure. They’re at odds with those who call for more tax revenue or increased user fees, or both.

The ASCE report called on Michiganders to “reach out to elected officials to let them know Michigan needs consistent and reliable funding to maintain and improve our transportation and water infrastructure, and not to wait for our systems to fail.”

The engineers stopped short of recommending specific funding solutions, preferring to leave those decisions to policymakers. But they noted that the longer upkeep is deferred, the larger the bill when it’s time to be paid.

“We’re going to see more roads with big potholes, more dams that might fail and wash out, flooding … and we could possibly have more Flint situations with poor water systems,” Melinda Bacon, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Michigan section and co-chairwoman of the state’s 2018 infrastructure report card, told Bridge in an interview.

“We really need to look at the whole problem and come up with some really creative and innovative solutions to start working on our infrastructure,” said Bacon, a senior project engineer with the consulting firm SME in Kalamazoo.

The state scorecard was prepared by a volunteer group of civil and environmental engineers from Michigan. The grades take into account such factors as whether infrastructure can meet capacity, its physical condition, government funding levels and repair costs.

A grade of D means a state’s infrastructure is in poor to fair condition, with many systems nearing the end of their life cycles and deteriorating.

Here’s a snapshot of how Michigan fared in 2018:

  • Roads: D-
  • Stormwater: D-
  • Drinking water: D
  • Schools: D+
  • Bridges: C-
  • Dams: C-
  • Energy: C-
  • Rail: C-
  • Transit: C-
  • Aviation: C
  • Navigation: C
  • Wastewater: C
  • Solid waste: C+

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Tue, 03/06/2018 - 1:57pm

The problem keeps getting kicked down the road which is indicative of a term-limited State government.

John Czarnecki
Tue, 03/06/2018 - 3:17pm

We are leaving a mess for our children. We must begin to tax ourselves to pay for the necessary improvements. Why are we willing to pay $100 for a football ticket but not rais the gas tax to insure we can get to the game. Our priorities are all in the wrong place.

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 3:56pm

Is it a surprise that Engineering associations say that states need more engineering? Or that accountants say we should not simplify the tax code? I'd assume this to be case.
If I ran an engineering association I'd consider getting an objective body to publish an assessment. Otherwise every year there will be "D+" report card grades yet nothing will change as a result.

Paul Jordan
Tue, 03/06/2018 - 5:49pm

Michigan is not exceptional in its neglect of infrastructure. The neoliberal policies that this country has followed for the last 30 years (through both Republican AND Democratic administrations) is resulting in our becoming comparable to so-called third world countries.

The next few years will be our last chance to change course before we take our place among history's former empires.

I wonder which country will take out place? China?

John Gorentz
Wed, 03/07/2018 - 2:30am

There is nothing wrong with our infrastructure that can't be fixed by oppressing the people harder.

Sam melvin
Wed, 03/07/2018 - 10:39am

in 1990 road & bridge----$ 328 million
in 2001 ============$ 1.54 BILLION ----369% increase
Money is not the problem it is the pride and quality of Road work and material.
No casinos in 2001....
No charteschools..lottery MOneY
Governor salary increased by 62%....

John Richard
Sun, 03/11/2018 - 2:48pm

I am surprised that Michigan got above a failing mark. Having replaced 5 tires in 2 years, I would award an "F"

Tue, 03/13/2018 - 4:13pm

Hmmmmm..... I wonder if Colorado has as bad of roads and bridges as Michigan does... Can you imagine how much money could be raised from taxes to go towards fixing this stuff if we had recreational marijuana??

Thu, 03/15/2018 - 3:01pm

So what we do best is solid waste eh? Not surprising that our rightwing/whitewing leaders are number 1 in that department.

Sat, 03/17/2018 - 11:05pm

All a gas tax is raise the cost of everything else and especially for those that can't afford it.
Simple fix. Replace the reduced Business tax back on business that the nerd pushed instead upon seniors by taking away the homestead tax relief.

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 7:35am


Wed, 05/30/2018 - 12:56pm

They should lower the load limits of semi trucks. We have the heaviest limits in the country. Needless to say they do a lot of damage to the roads.

Marge Bullock
Sun, 11/04/2018 - 12:12pm

The key to making new $ available is to Pay Attention to CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM! Too many Michiganders are languishing idly behind bars FOR TOO MANY of our tax $ - while all other priorities suffer and fall much further behind. We cannot afford the Michigan Department of Corrections as it is now conceived and funded!!! It is eating us up alive.

Sun, 02/10/2019 - 12:51pm

The only way to get out of this trap is to star immediately doing permanent structure health monitoring on all big infrastructures. With the innovative, inexpensive and reliable technologies available on the market there are no excuses left. It will give us important data about the condition of single infrastructures and help us prioritize maintenance saving a lot of money as well as prevent possible catastrophe. I just returned from Germany where they are massively mounting permanent monitoring systems based on tri-axial accelerometers. If I am not mistaken they where implementing solutions from this company: https://www.monodaq.com/ethercat/triaxial-accelerometer-daq/

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 9:23am

I think most citizens don’t trust the state. They’ve raised our taxes for roads many times yet the roads are continuing to fall apart. I’d like to see an independent audit of where the money they have now is before giving anymore.
Our current Governor suggested a .45 per gallon tax but all that money wasn’t going to fixing roads. She proposed taking out enough to pay the state highway department employees when their pay is already in the general budget. That looks to me to be shady and makes me not want to give them any more money.