As the Michigan legislature continues to grapple with how to appropriately pay for transportation improvements in the state it is increasingly obvious that this is a make-or-break matter for the state. (Will they vote this week? Next week? Ever?)
Michigan ranks 50th among states in per capita expenditures for roads. That’s dead last for the mathematically challenged among us. The effects of the lack of investment can be felt from Monroe to Ironwood and everywhere in between. Southeast Michigan ranks as the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without public transit. We’re struggling to find the political will to build a second bridge span with our neighbor directly to the south even though Canada is this country’s largest trade partner and Detroit is the busiest shared border. (That’s not a typo as Canada is directly south of Detroit) Many of our ports remain outdated and uncompetitive for increased commercial and recreational traffic even though we enjoy more fresh water coastline than anyone.
I often write about the truly amazing things going on in this state as it reinvents itself from post-industrial jumble into a center for creativity and innovation. The stories are truly inspiring and it is amazing to be part of it during this time of renaissance. Great things are happening in big cities and in small towns. New ideas are hatching in boardrooms and in garages. Tough times and chaos, as we know, breed risk tolerance and innovation.
But I have learned in recent years that in order to catalyze these efforts you need an engaged and supportive system of government that includes an attentive city hall and state leaders who understand the importance of their roles in scaling the good that happens in the community. In many cases transportation infrastructure is the #1 thing that government leaders can do to spur real growth. I can’t think of a single business or quality-of-life ‘indicator’ that doesn’t improve when/if the legislature acts.
- Better roads move product faster. Check
- Road diets make urban places more competitive for housing. Check
- Talented workers prefer reliable transit to owning a car. Check
- People are healthier if their communities are walkable and bikeable. Check
- Tourism gets easier. Check
- The powerhouse economies of Toronto to the east and Chicago to the west get that much closer and become more accessible for business. Check
I could go on.
I have written in the past that the proper role of government in modern-day America is that of “the host of the party, not the life of it.” In this case, the Michigan legislature needs to act soon or else our recent gains as a state simply aren’t sustainable. It’s time to stop simply managing the decline of Michigan and start betting on its future. Providing for quality roads and transit systems that improve the lives of people is a good place to start.