Investing in infrastructure spurs economic vitality

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Throughout our history, economic development has always followed infrastructure improvements. Towns sprung up along the railroad. Freeways became the links between economic centers. From Thomas Edison and his lightbulb to the information superhighway, infrastructure investment has always mattered.

Much of the infrastructure conversation in Michigan recently has centered around the roads. There is no doubt that our roads need attention. We fervently hope that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and our State Legislature can reach agreement on a plan to upgrade our road systems. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel recently estimated that my home county alone needs $2.3 billion to bring all of our roads up to the quality we expect.

While we are investing in our roads, however, we cannot forget about the critical infrastructure that is hidden below ground. Our sewer and water lines are aging and need investment. Our stormwater systems need upgrading so that we can improve water quality in our magnificent Great Lakes.

In Macomb County, we saw firsthand in 2017 what can happen if our sewer lines are not properly maintained and operated. That was the year of the giant sewer line collapse and resulting sinkhole on 15 Mile Road in Fraser. The sewage of nearly 500,000 people — and of more than 40,000 businesses ranging from corner stores to auto plants — passed through that damaged line.

Since that incident, we have been moving on multiple fronts, inspecting our decades-old system of sewer interceptors and making plans for improvements in our stormwater management program.

Utilizing a series of state SAW (Stormwater, Asset management and Wastewater) grants we have conducted inspections on most of our major underground pipes in Macomb County. No surprise, we found a few areas that need attention now and have developed a plan for preventative maintenance. These state grants were a boon to local communities — but they only paid for the inspection, not the maintenance work.

In our other major project, we are deep into the design stage of expanding and upgrading our Chapaton Pump Station in St. Clair Shores, with construction set to begin in 2020. This project will significantly reduce combined sewer overflows, which have been happening for decades, into Lake St. Clair. While a final price tag on this project is not yet set, this investment will significantly change our relationship with the lake. We will be making a major improvement in the lake’s water quality, which will enhance the quality of life for area residents.

All of these investments spur economic activity by ensuring businesses have the foundational support they need and creating an ever-more attractive place for their potential future employees to live.

While we are moving forward on these projects, our progress is slowed by the lack of financial support from the federal government for which we had once been hopeful.

I firmly believe there are a few critical areas that the federal government should be involved in. National defense is obviously one. Infrastructure investment — the backbone of our country — is another. Our infrastructure investments have a direct bearing on our ability to support our business community and on our ability to protect the world’s largest collection of fresh water, the Great Lakes. These must be national priorities.

Make no mistake, we are moving on our projects. We are focused on enhancing the quality of life and serving as a critical component of economic activity in our communities. We could, however, do so much more.

We have mustered the political will at the local level to take a critical look at our infrastructure and have begun the process needed to improve our communities.

We call on our leaders at the state and national levels to do the same.

Candice Miller is the Macomb County Public Works commissioner.