Whitmer says Legislature must get ‘serious’ about infrastructure funding during Lansing bridge visit

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer inspects a Lansing bridge, Aug. 12, 2019 | Derek Robertson

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited a decaying bridge in Lansing’s REO Town neighborhood Monday morning, taking the opportunity to press the Legislature to pass a state budget that will fund the state’s much-needed infrastructure repairs.

A Lansing bridge on Elm Street in need of repair | Derek Robertson

Accompanied by Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials, Whitmer toured a bridge on Elm Street that spans the Red Cedar River and has had its weight limit roughly cut in half due to the state’s lack of funding for repair and maintenance.

“There are $44 million of projects that need to be done here in this area, and only $8 million available,” Whitmer said. “This bridge alone is a $3 million fix, and that’s why it’s so important the Legislature get serious about coming up with a solution.”

The visit comes as talks over the state’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 budget have largely stalled during the Legislature’s summer recess. The deadline to enact a budget is Sept. 30 to avoid a partial government shutdown. 

Fixing the roads remains Whitmer’s top priority, as highlighted by her visit Monday. Both the governor and top GOP members of the Legislature have said “conversations” between the two sides are ongoing, but no details have surfaced as of yet.

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Rebecca Curtis, MDOT deputy bridge engineer, said requests for infrastructure funding in mid-Michigan have fallen well short of the amount of money actually needed.

“The issue is that when you look at the large number of bridges that are [in] serious and critical [condition] on the local agency side, you run into a risk of having to close the bridge,” Curtis said.

A Lansing bridge on Elm Street in need of repair | Derek Robertson

“So an agency is going to be put into the tough spot of, ‘Do I spend what limited funding I might have on preservation, or to reduce future costs, or do I make sure that I keep the system open today?’ That’s the tough position that these agencies are in.”

According to a May report from Bridge that tracked the state’s nearly 450 bridges that are in either “serious” or “critical” condition, the Elm Street bridge services nearly 2,000 vehicles per day with a superstructure that’s listed as in “serious” condition.

Curtis pointed out to the governor and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor the various areas underneath the bridge where its wire roping was hanging down, among various other visible signs of decay. 

“This is one of our major ways to cross the river,” said Schor. “If you can’t cross here, then you are not getting to REO Town … it’s a big deal for us, and for our commerce and our citizens.”

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MDOT predicts the bridge has roughly 10 years left in its lifespan, although it plans to fully repair the bridge before then.

“If funding was elected this year, you’d be talking about 2022 at the earliest [for repairs to begin],” said Curtis. “So there’s already three years minimum that this bridge is going to have to remain open to traffic, and we’ll have to increase inspection frequency to make sure the deterioration doesn’t progress further.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks to reporters at a Lansing bridge | Derek Robertson

Whitmer called on the Legislature to reconvene and put the necessary funding on the table to make that happen.

“It’s time for them to get to work,” Whitmer said. “We’re getting precariously close to the end of the fiscal year, and this is getting serious and our safety is at risk.”

In an email last week, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) spokesperson Amber McCann said, “More money for roads will have a direct impact on the budget. The Majority Leader is working with his colleagues in the Senate, leadership in the House, and Governor Whitmer to get a road funding plan sooner rather than later.”

Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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