The first of a series of fall communication and coordination summits took place last week in Comstock Park to address the management of Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure.
The Michigan Infrastructure Council this year has been working with regions across the state to host spring and fall regional summits as an opportunity to engage with peers and help determine what stakeholders need for integrated, infrastructure asset management in Michigan.
The summits are designed to represent all stakeholders who use and manage Michigan’s infrastructure, remove barriers to efficient infrastructure asset management and align standards and resources across all infrastructure assets, including transportation, water, utilities and communications.
“What you’re hearing is there’s a variety of organizations throughout the state that are going to be required to do these asset management plans because of legislation that exists, and we’re here to help them to do that,” said John Weiss, executive director of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council.
In the broader scope, everybody is an asset manager in some capacity, whether it’s planning for when the roof needs to be replaced, when the car needs that oil change. The goal of asset management is to apply the same logic to managing public infrastructure.
Maintenance has been postponed to the point where the cost to rebuild has grown 10 times the cost to maintain, Weiss estimated. For example, instead of resurfacing a road to prevent deterioration, some roads now have to be torn up completely and built from scratch.
Asset management operates on a system where people know the assets they have. They know the age of those assets and the deterioration rate and can fix them before they fail.
“Oftentimes, we operate on a system of ‘worst first,’” Weiss said. “We don’t fix it until it’s broken. We can see that as we look across the state.”
The Grand Rapids suburbs, for example, started growing in the 1960s, and the infrastructure placed in the ground around the same time has not been touched since then, Weiss said. The business implications for deteriorating infrastructure also are severe.
“If you look at West Michigan, we have a large agricultural community that depends on smooth roads to get apples to marketplaces,” Weiss said. “If you’re doing detours, you’re running on bad roads, or the water system fails, all of those things have a dramatic impact on the business community.”
The state of Michigan overall has a D+ ranking, according to the American Society for Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card, including a D- in roads, D in drinking water, C- in energy, C- in transit and a D- in stormwater.
Carrie Rivette, stormwater manager for the city of Grand Rapids, said the city’s stormwater system faces difficulty in keeping up with the rise in the intensity and frequency of rain.
“Within a couple of hours, we’ll get the amount of rain that it usually takes 24 (hours),” Rivette said. “This year, I think we’re within inches of record rainfalls, and the groundwater saturation in our systems can’t always keep up with it.”
At last week’s meeting, MIC discussed developing an online project portal that would provide high-level project information, including points of contact for potential partners; a map of active, completed and pending projects; whether a project would lead to the opening or closing of roads and more.
Rivette said such a tool would be very useful. The city currently does fairly well communicating with utilities like DTE and Consumers Energy for projects but being able to schedule them on one map would ease communications.
The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission was formed in 2016 to initiate the planning, development and management of Michigan’s infrastructure systems over the next 30 to 50 years. The commission in a report emphasized successful infrastructure asset management should leverage a well-documented and collaborative approach.
A regional infrastructure asset management pilot was conducted in 2017 across 16 southeast and West Michigan counties to evaluate data availability and collection methods, develop processes that could be leveraged statewide and initiate coordination activities across infrastructure sectors.
The following year, three councils were created and/or reconfigured to collaboratively guide stakeholders toward a 30-year management plan for Michigan’s diverse infrastructure network.
Two newly established organizations were the Michigan Infrastructure Council and the Water Asset Management Council. The Transportation Asset Management Council was realigned and received a broadened scope, as well.
Following public input from the 2019 fall summits, the MIC plans to form and publish Michigan’s 30-year Integrated Infrastructure Strategy by 2021.