Infrastructure gets poor grades

An average grade of D-plus.

That’s how the Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the state overall in its 2018 Report Card for Michigan’s Infrastructure, released Tuesday.

In 13 categories, the highest grade Michigan could muster was a C-Plus for solid waste — nice to know the state is slightly above average in handling its garbage — to a D-minus for roads and stormwater. That’s the lowest level on the report card.

If the state takes any comfort from the report card, the national 2017 Infrastructure Report Card also averaged a D-plus overall.

The 2018 Report Card for Michigan’s Infrastructure “finds that much of the state’s infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life and continues to threaten Michigan’s lakes, rivers, drinking water, and public health and safety.”

Professional engineers from across Michigan assessed the 13 categories of infrastructure and graded the state at C-plus for solid waste; C for aviation, navigation and wastewater; C-minus for bridges, dams, energy, rail and transit; D-plus for schools; D for drinking water; and D-minus for roads and stormwater.

Other major findings included:

— Roads: 39 percent of the state’s 120,000 miles of paved roads are considered in poor condition, with 43 percent rated in fair condition and just 18 percent rated in good condition.

— Drinking water systems scored only a D. It is estimated that Michigan is underfunding improvements for Safe Drinking Water Act compliance by $284 million to $563 million every year.

— Michigan lacks a way to inventory, operate and maintain stormwater infrastructure that can provide flood protection, improve quality of life for residents and maintain water quality in rivers, lakes, streams and the Great Lakes.

— Perhaps the most ominous, the state has 1,234 structurally deficient bridges and the Michigan Department of Transportation estimates the number of state-maintained bridges judged in poor condition will increase by 50 percent in the next five years.

Among the recommendations to raise the grades:

— Increase state funding. The Michigan Legislature passed increased funding in 2015 but needs to do more to create a long-term legislative solution.

— Support innovative policies to ensure high-quality data gathering and asset management practices in place — for example, the proposed creation of the Michigan Infrastructure Council.

— Prioritize public health and safety by properly maintaining Michigan infrastructure.

— Get involved. Make sure lawmakers know Michigan isn’t making the infrastructure grade and see how we stack up against other states.

“A D-plus grade is unacceptable. Michigan is poised to address what’s broken and protect our residents’ safety by making necessary investments to improve our infrastructure. We can rebuild our roads, make our bridges safer, and prevent costly water main breaks-all things that will save us money in the long run,” said Myndi Bacon, co-chairwoman of the Report Card for Michigan’s Infrastructure. “Michigan residents take pride in our most precious resource, our water. It’s time to make protecting our residents’ health and safety as well as our rivers, lakes and streams a top priority.”

But is the state really ready to address the problem and make infrastructure a top priority?

It didn’t appear so last week, when state lawmakers had a supplemental spending bill that would have invested another $275 million for road repair. It failed in the state Senate, 15-21.

That was separate from a $175 million appropriation approved by both state Senate and House. Those funds will come from the state General Fund, which has a surplus.

This $275 million would have been drawn from the state’s so-called “rainy day” fund, which totals nearly $1 billion.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle all acknowledge about the dire need for infrastructure repairs, maintenance and upgrades, yet measures seem to bog down before any real action happens. Let’s hope this near-failing grade serves as a wake-up call to get this past the point of just talk.