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Would Michigan's infrastructure survive a natural disaster?

October 18, 2017
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While Michigan’s weather can be trying and unpredictable, the state typically has avoided the major disasters that affect other states, such as hurricanes and earthquakes. While our infrastructure doesn’t need to be able to withstand gale-force winds or (hopefully) extreme flooding or mudslides, we still need to be able to maintain a solid and safe infrastructure.

But, if you look at the numbers, we are failing to do so.

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers publishes the Infrastructure Report Card, which grades the current state of national infrastructure categories on a scale of A through F. And, every year, America’s infrastructure has earned consistent D averages with Michigan often averaging the lowest grade.

Real events

It was poor infrastructure that led to the water crisis in Flint.

Over the course of one day in August 2014, metro Detroit was deluged with 5 to 6 inches of rain. The storm filled drain pipes, which in turn flooded freeways and backed up sewage into basements across the region.

In December 2013, an ice storm left 16,000 customers without power in Lansing alone. By the end of the storm, there were more than a million outages across the country, and many were left without power for over a week.

In 2015, a study by TRIP, a national transportation research group, reported that Grand Rapids’ roads were ranked the ninth worst in the country, stating that 51 percent of roads were in poor condition, which cost drivers an average of $803 per year in damages.

All of these instances were due to a breakdown in infrastructure.

The numbers in the report show an infrastructure that not only doesn’t support our current weather situations, but would not hold up under worse conditions.

A glimpse at the numbers

  • 88 dams in Michigan are considered to be high-hazard potential
  • Of Michigan's 122,286 miles of public roads, 21 percent are in poor condition
  • 27 percent of Michigan bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete
  • 11 million jobs would be lost if there was an unscheduled, six-month shutdown of the Poe Lock (the only lock capable of accommodating the largest Great Lakes vessels, which carry 70 percent of all cargo passing through the Soo Locks)
  • If funding doesn't change, 14 percent of Michigan's bridges will be considered structurally deficient by 2023, according to TRIP

While crumbling roads and potholes may not seem dangerous at the moment, should a major natural disaster hit Michigan, they will be a hazard that will be exasperated by the mass of vehicles attempting to leave the state.

It was a neglected infrastructure that led to extreme damage and flooding after Hurricane Katrina, and given the state of our dams, water lines and sewers, if Michigan were to be tested by extreme weather, we likely would fail.

Looking forward, our ability to improve our infrastructure will depend on how we address two major systems — roads and bridges, and drinking water. Problems need to be addressed now before Michigan is hit with severe weather or before the problems become larger than we can afford to fix.

Investing money when there’s a problem won’t solve the issue in the long-term. Raising the grade means taking action. It’s 2017, and Michigan’s infrastructure can — and should — be better.