LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder will address Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure at his seventh State of the State address at 7 tonight at the Capitol, as he continues to grapple with the Flint drinking water crisis and confronts a new emergency with a Macomb County sinkhole — nearly the size of a football field — that is swallowing homes in Fraser.
Snyder is expected to call for action on at least one recommendation from his recent 21st Century Infrastructure Commission — creating an integrated asset management system to combine information on infrastructure and coordinate planning among cities, utilities and state government.
The new database would link roads, bridges, sewers, water mains, fiber-optic cables and energy supply lines. Such a process could help assure, for example, that a road project could be coordinated with sewer and gas main replacement; allowing the road to be torn up only once, and the costs to be shared by multiple agencies.
Snyder — one year after apologizing for the Flint drinking water crisis in his sixth State of the State address — will almost certainly detail the improvements that tests show in the quality of Flint’s drinking water as well as state efforts to make better not only the water residents drink, but their health, nutrition, education and economic opportunities.
Snyder also may move to create a state infrastructure council to coordinate projects. That was another recommendation of his commission, which said in December that Michigan needs to spend $4 billion more on infrastructure than it spends today.
But how much further will Snyder go on infrastructure? His officials were not trying to raise expectations last week.
On infrastructure, “we don’t have any big announcements planned at this time,” Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said.
“I can tell you his focus, as far as the commission report goes, will be on the integrated asset management piece — coordination between cities, utilities and state government when planning upgrades to existing infrastructure.”
The governor may revisit the Michigan Infrastructure Fund he proposed in his budget last February, but which the Legislature has yet to fund. Snyder wanted to set aside $165 million in the fund to address infrastructure needs. In this year’s budget, he may ask that some of the roughly $330 million in one-time surplus money that lawmakers have to work with be placed there.
“It’s a huge national problem, about not investing enough in infrastructure, and Michigan needs to be a leader in it,” Snyder told the Free Press during an interview Thursday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
“By investing smartly ahead of time, you can be preventative, which is much better than waiting for a crisis.”
Snyder delivers his speech amid a chorus of voices calling for action on infrastructure, including: Business Leaders for Michigan; the Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association; and his own commission, which described itself as “the first of its kind in the nation to offer comprehensive recommendations across asset types: water, transportation, energy, and communications infrastructure.”
Michigan has appropriated more than $200 million to help Flint since Oct. 1, 2015, when Snyder acknowledged that state mistakes helped cause lead contamination of the city’s drinking water supply — which started more than a year earlier. And Flint Mayor Karen Weaver is seeking tens of millions more to replace lead service lines serving many city residents. Most of what she has received to address that issue has come from the federal government, not the state.
In Macomb County, home of the sinkhole, “I’d like him to promise some help; some financial help,” county Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said Friday, in reference to Snyder’s State of the State address, during a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.”
“I don’t know if he can do that, but obviously, the costs are going to be daunting — certainly in the tens of millions of dollars,” Miller said. What’s more, the Fraser sinkhole may be “the canary in the coal mine,” pointing to similar problems statewide.