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Editorial: Prepare now to fix roads, drains

Wednesday, May 25, 2011   (0 Comments)
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Michigan's deteriorating infrastructure was the subject of two recent reports that attracted the usual minimum of attention from officials who'd prefer to keep this problem on the back burner. True, money's short and the solutions are costly, but the reports prove to anyone who cares about Michigan that it's time for the avoidance to end.

Lawmakers need to work with Gov. Rick Snyder to create a realistic plan for repairing and updating its aging infrastructure through a combination of user fees and reordered spending priorities. It's an investment that will pay off in improved commerce and new jobs.

The flip side is that we can count on a less-than-ideal result from the governor's state reinvention effort if the inadequacies made apparent by the two reports are allowed to continue. They are as follows:

More than one-third of Michigan's federally aided roads are in poor condition, triple the number in that category seven years ago, according to the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council. Nearly half of all nonfederal roads — typically neighborhood streets and county roads — also are in poor condition.

Inadequate collection and treatment systems allowed more than 15 billion gallons of raw or only partially decontaminated sewage to spew into streams, inland lakes and the Great Lakes since January alone, statistics compiled by the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association show. Wayne County, the state's most populous and one of its main business hubs, accounted for almost 90 percent of it. Companies need good roads to bring in supplies and send out their products. Commuters need them to get to work safely.

An inability to prevent waterways from becoming open sewers whenever there's substantial rainfall presents an image of state and local governments that aren't able to tend to their most basic of duties.

Snyder is doing a good job of squeezing unnecessary spending out of the state budget, but there also could be new money for infrastructure with some more rearranging of priorities.

According to organizations such as the Detroit Regional Chamber, for example, there's an opportunity to save hundreds of millions per year in prison costs with sensible sentencing reductions. Savings also should come from privatizing some prison services, if not entire prisons.

And continuing to fund retirement health care coverage for public workers at current levels makes little sense when the costs are spiraling out of control. Some of that money could help meet other needs, such as water treatment systems. A modest gasoline tax hike is also reasonable.

The governor has said he wants to present a special message on roads and other infrastructure this fall. He has proven resourceful on fiscal reform and probably will have additional ideas at that time.

Lawmakers should stand ready to act. Michigan won't be rebuilt without smooth roads and adequate sewers.

From The Detroit News:

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