By Detroit Free Press Guest Writer Jeff Fettig, Chairman & CEO of Whirlpool Corporation and Chairman of Business Leaders for Michigan.
As winter takes hold, Michiganders will encounter one of our state’s most challenging issues — deficient roads and bridges. I think everyone has their own personal story of how our bad roads have affected them, whether in unplanned and costly car repairs or overall aggravation that comes from dealing with bad weather on top of potholes.
While our economic recovery remains strong — jobs and personal income are growing again, and gross domestic product is on the rise — we still have large gaps to fill, namely in our roads.
It starts with a commitment to build and maintain a world-class transportation infrastructure. Not only do poor-quality roads wreak havoc on our vehicles daily, they can add unnecessary costs and shipping delays for businesses, which harms everyone overall.
Michigan’s urban roadways are in such poor condition — they’ve earned us a ranking of 45th in the nation, according to our analysis of federal data. Not a big surprise, considering Michigan spends nearly one-half of the average of Great Lakes states on its roads. Moreover, 33% of our state’s bridges are deficient. Businesses contemplating a Michigan location take these factors into account.
We need to take immediate measures to make sure our infrastructure is safe, strong and capable of supporting the economy we want. We need to ensure that products and services that are made in Michigan can easily reach the world via roads and bridges that are well built and effectively maintained.
A quality infrastructure leads to job growth, higher income levels and a growing population. These are economic outcomes Michigan urgently needs.
It’s important that the solution be large enough to solve the problem and sustainable. It’s not enough to just fix what we have. We need a solution that allows us to expand capacity, as well. Whether it’s a wholesale gas tax, registration fees, truck fees or any combination of the above, we stand ready to support a solution as long as it addresses our transportation needs in a way that allows us to grow. We cannot continue to use general-fund dollars to support roads when that money needs to be prioritized for other urgent needs.
Over the last four years, Michigan has made tremendous economic progress, thanks to our elected leaders. Their efforts to create a more competitive tax climate, reduce debt and restore fiscal discipline have taken Michigan from being last on most key measures of competitiveness to getting us back in the game. But now it’s time to take the next steps to make sure Michigan can reach top 10 levels.
Our state urgently needs a comprehensive solution to funding Michigan’s roads and bridges. This issue is about much more than filling potholes. It’s about whether or not Michigan is going to be a state that loses population, or whether we are going to grow jobs, incomes and population.