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The tide that lifts all boats

A historic $11 billion in federal funds, allocated for Michigan through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in November 2021, is going to pay for projects aimed at expanding access to high-speed internet, rebuilding the state’s roads and bridges, and improving water and sewer systems, public transportation and public parks.

To put the amount in context, the state’s annual budget for fiscal year 2024 is about $81 billion, so an infusion of an additional $11 billion will have a significant impact. In effect, it’s a funding tide that will lift all boats.

And, boy, do we need it – especially when we have the state administration throwing $20 million at an ad campaign targeting young college graduates in other states and the Growing Michigan Together Council floating the idea of paying people to move to Michigan.

That’s no tide lifting anything. Instead, it feels like we’re circling the drain. It’ll be interesting to see the council’s Dec. 15 recommendations.

In the meantime, what seems most uplifting, oddly enough, is what the U.S. Congress has done for us.

In October, we reported on the Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport receiving both an Airport Improvement Grant and funding from the Airport Terminal Program to expand the terminal ramp to the east and west, and to replace three passenger jet bridges.

That’s part of this federal largesse — and it’s being invested right in the heart of the Traverse City area.

This is the first major infrastructure spending in the U.S. in more than a decade. When adjusted for inflation, the $550-billion legislation is the equivalent of building the interstate highway system, according to a report in The New York Times.

Total infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP has been declining since about 1970, when the rate of investment was 1.15%. The level fell as low as 0.7% in 2019, according to a study by Yale University. This infrastructure bill brought it back up to about 1.2%, a level of investment only exceeded by the New Deal at 1.4%.

As Michigan motorists know, failing to invest in crumbling roads and bridges costs more in the long run, not to mention the wear and tear on our vehicles. Roads that have to be rebuilt from a poor condition cost more to repair than those rated somewhat higher yet still need replacement.

U.S. Transportation Administration data shows, as of this spring, there were 1,219 road bridges and 7,345 miles of highway in poor condition. Michigan is expected to receive $7.3 billion toward road replacement and repair and $563 million for road bridge work. About $3.1 billion of those funds have been, or will soon be, allocated.

For our region, we’ll see a $29 million investment in pavement reconstruction on I-75 from Levering Road to Cheboygan County; $4.5 million to improve M-72 in Kalkaska and Crawford counties; $273,679 to chip and seal a portion of M-32 in Atlanta; and $1.1 million to reconstruct and add drainage to a portion of M-22 in Leelanau County.

Other general allocations for Michigan include about $1 billion toward public transportation — and not just the airport – bus, rail, car and passenger ferry infrastructure will receive funds for upgrades. Another $1.3 billion is earmarked to improve water infrastructure, and $110 million for electric vehicle infrastructure, including charging stations.

One of the largest outlays of the federal infrastructure funding in the state, at $1.56 billion, is a plan to ensure residents’ access to a high-speed internet connection. That will benefit many people in our rural areas.

The key to attracting growth, and doing it wisely, is to piggyback off these projects and extend them by magnifying the impact of the federal funds that much more. The members of that Growing Michigan Together Council should reconvene, mark all of these federal projects on a big map of Michigan and figure out how they can springboard some enhancement off each one of the initiatives.

Use state funds to make federal investment in infrastructure count for a nearby town, a nature trail, a township park, an educational institution or an arts and entertainment venue.

The answer is staring them in the face: Invest in Michigan.

Build it up and they will come.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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