Michigan wins its infrastructure bet: quick work, safe bridges

Michigan celebrates 2022 with a record of 1,200 bridges and 16,000 (25,750 km) of road lane miles fixed

Michigan is racing toward its year-end goal. It’s a gamble that Governor Gretchen Whitmer is confident she can win, thanks in part to the bipartisan support that has enabled her in recent months to allocate the funds she needs to achieve it.

“Through the end of 2022, we will fix over 16,000 (25,750 km) lane miles of road and more than 1,200 bridges, supporting nearly 89,000 jobs,” the governor said in mid-October.

At the start of 2022, Michigan set a goal for itself: to start a massive maintenance programme for its strategic infrastructure and, most importantly, to be able to complete it within 12 months.

“Thanks to our hard work, we are moving dirt to fix roads and bridges across Michigan at a record pace. With the completion of the projects in Gogebic, Livingston, and Luce counties, Michiganders will have a smoother drive, saving them time and money as they run errands, go to work, or travel,” she said.

In Gogebic County, 2.7 miles (4.3 km) of the US-2 highway were rebuilt; bridge maintenance projects were completed in Livingstone and in Luce County. According to a statement, 126 jobs were created in the first highway project alone, in addition to making the road safer.

In Livingston County, work focused fixing the Red Cedar River Drain, a bridge built in 1948 and reduced to a dilapidated condition by the weather and lack of previous maintenance. In this case, work began last August 15 and was completed on October 10, four days ahead of schedule.

The best news about Michigan’s big infrastructure upgrade was the speed with which construction sites were managed over the course of the year.

Michigan infrastructure plan: start with the bridges

Bridges are among the most important infrastructure in the United States – and the least well maintained. This is also why Michigan has devoted special attention to bridges as part of its infrastructure redevelopment project. The “Rebuilding Our Bridges” pilot programme repaired 19 large bridges and several smaller ones that were reduced to critical condition. Each of them underwent a series of fixes that took between just 60 and 90 days. The last bridges undergoing the maintenance works were reopened to traffic on November 20, meeting the milestone of finishing by year-end. The pilot program was funded by the Federal Highway Improvement Programme.  Its successful completion has paved the way for Phase 2 of the project will begin in 2023, which will invest $196 million (€196 million) from Covid-19 funds in new and more massive work to refurbish 59 other major bridges.

The five-year plan to get Michigan back on track

Bridges and roads first. Michigan’s record-breaking year owes its good fortune — in addition to a well-oiled administrative machine — to the Rebuilding Michigan Plan, a five-year plan for a $3.5 billion (€3.5 billion) investment for rebuilding roads and bridges.

This plan has been joined by a second initiative, supported politically by both Republicans and Democrats, which gave a further boost to construction. The Building Michigan Together Plan is a $5 billion (€5 billion) mega-investment that has been called the most substantial infrastructure development plan in Michigan’s history.

“The United States currently ranks 13th in the world in terms of our infrastructure – which is simply unacceptable. We can and must do more to strengthen and prepare our infrastructure for the 21st century,” said Senator Gary Peters, one of the plan’s supporters, when the plan was announced in March 2022.

This is the most ambitious goal of Michigan’s plan: to turn the state into a case history for the whole country, so that the experience and results gained here can be replicated in the rest of America as soon as possible.