Gov. proposes $300M to fix bridges, $290M for clean water

By: - February 12, 2021 6:56 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer examines a Highway 131 bridge in Grand Rapids, June 24, 2019 | Nick Manes

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday said her recommended $67.1 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2022 is “laser-focused” on targeting the state’s most important priorities, as Michigan begins to strategically rebuild from a year of hardships due to COVID-19 and the recession it caused.

Those priorities include a heavy focus on addressing the state’s infrastructure and environmental needs. Whitmer ran in 2018 on a promise to “fix the damn roads,” but much of that work was sidelined due to the pandemic. Thursday’s budget proposal returns to that goal in a way that also acknowledges the challenges crises Michigan has faced over the last year.

The administration’s largest infrastructure investment recommendation — $300 million — is aimed at repairing or replacing about 120 bridges around the state that are in serious or critical condition. The funds will allow the Michigan Department of Transportation (DOT) to assist and coordinate construction with those local agencies.

Sixty of those bridges “are so dangerous, they should be closed right now,” Whitmer said during a press conference with reporters. She also noted that these crumbling bridges are especially dangerous in rural areas as they could prevent emergency services from reaching residents.

The MI Clean Water Plan would also see a significant boost under Whitmer’s budget recommendation. State grants totaling $290 million would address various wastewater and infrastructure projects while simultaneously boosting job growth.

Those projects include removing sewage discharge and eliminating failing septic systems in order to protect public health.

Big boosts in infrastructure grants for high water resiliency needs are also recommended in Whitmer’s proposal. Coastal erosion, flooding and other issues would be addressed via infrastructure grants of $30 million, while planning grants totaling $10 million would support development of local resiliency plans.

On the issues of dam emergencies — a problem which was put into focus in May, after the privately-owned Edenville and Sanford Dams failed and unleashed catastrophic flooding in Midland — the Whitmer administration proposes a $15 million general fund deposit into a Dam Safety Emergency Fund.

The fund would act as a reserve of state resources in case a similar situation occurs again. If dam owners are willing or unable to mitigate hazards caused by malfunctions, as was the case in the Midland floods, the reserve would provide funds specifically allocated toward protecting the public and addressing environmental damage.

Whitmer’s recommendations for infrastructure investments also go beyond physical infrastructure to address a burgeoning threat for state governments across the country: Cyber threats and attempts to attack the state’s information technology systems.

According to state Budget Director David Massaron, putting $20 million toward mitigating these threats is crucial, as the potential consequences of leaving the state’s systems vulnerable to cyber attacks could ultimately cost much more. Michigan is currently experiencing a significant influx in phishing emails.

Whitmer also acknowledged the crisis that climate change continues to pose, saying there is a need for the budget to emphasize statewide clean energy investments.

Two initiatives, the State Facility Green Revolving Fund and the Michigan Saves Green Bank, would receive boosts of $5 million each to continue projects and investments related to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“The reality is, climate change has already caused tangible harm throughout Michigan, with communities of color and low-income Michiganders bearing the brunt of its impact so far,” Whitmer said. “And that is why I’m including items in my budget to protect the state from this existential crisis.”

A total of $20 million allocated for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) would support the department’s rapid response efforts to clean up high-risk contaminated sites that pose an “immediate threat” to the environment and public health.

Highlights from Whitmer’s recommendations on infrastructure and environmental protection are:

  • $300 million for local bridge bundling to repair or replace approximately 120 local bridges in serious and critical condition
  • $290 million in infrastructure grants for the MI Clean Water Plan to address sewer overflows and mitigate public health risks by removing sewage discharge to surface water and groundwater and eliminate failing septic systems
  • $40 million to fund high water level and resilient infrastructure and planning grants to local governments for projects that address issues like coastal erosion, flooding, transportation networks, urban heat, and stormwater management
  • $20 million to protect the state from cyber threats from hostile entities looking to attack the state’s information technology systems   
  • $20 million for contaminated site cleanup to support rapid response to contaminated sites that pose an immediate threat
  • $15 million for the Dam Safety Emergency Fund for emergency response when dam owners are unwilling or unable to mitigate hazards caused by dam malfunction
  • $5 million for the State Facility Green Revolving Fund which is a catalyst for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at state facilities, helping reduce the state’s carbon footprint
  • $5 million for the Michigan Saves Green Bank to leverage private investment in clean energy improvements by incentivizing lenders to provide more favorable rates and terms for renewable energy improvements, promoting $150 million in private capital for clean energy improvements across the state
  • $5 million to support the purchase of propane tanks with funds provided as grants with a 50 percent match to help meet our energy needs

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).