Michigan Gov. Whitmer to Senate: Investment in roads, bridges needed to remain competitive

Michigan governor pushes roads agenda in Washington

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testifies before Senate hearing on Feb. 24, 2021. (WDIV)

WASHINGTON – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testified before the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, urging Congress to include significant investment in infrastructure in future legislation.

Whitmer, along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, testified before the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee in a hearing titled, “Building Back Better: Investing in Transportation while Addressing Climate Change, Improving Equity, and Fostering Economic Growth and Innovation.”

Topics in the hearing ranged from building a system of electric vehicle charging stations, increasing bike mobility, public transportation and planning for the impacts of climate change.

Gov. Whitmer’s written testimony opened with a call for significant investment in roads and bridges.

“It is important for me as the “Fix-the-Damn-Roads Governor” to start by saying that we need significant investments in our roadways and bridges. Without this significant investment, we struggle to remain competitive for businesses and families,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer campaigned on a promise to “fix the damn roads” in Michigan, an issue that has plagued previous administrations. Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure has ranked among the worst in the U.S.

Related: Why Michigan is so prone to potholes - and why repairs seem ineffective

In 2019, Whitmer pitched a plan to raise billions by hiking the gas tax by 45 cents. The plan failed to gain support in the Republican-led Michigan Legislature.

In 2020, Whitmer took executive action to create a $3.5 billion bond program to cover 49 projects to rebuild major freeways and bridges across the state.

Whitmer also included $300 million for roads in her 2021 state budget proposal earlier this month.

“Michigan has approximately 1,000 local bridges in poor or critical condition, many of which have load restrictions and 59 of which are completely closed because they are no longer safe for traffic. Closed bridges, whether in urban or rural areas of my state, not only adversely affect personal mobility, but they also slow our economic recovery by impeding the flow of agricultural products to market, raw materials like lumber to paper mills, and the movement of materials and products associated with our manufacturing industries,” Whitmer said in her testimony.

Modernization and climate

Meanwhile, Detroit’s automakers are already planning for a future with electric vehicles, with both General Motors and Ford setting goals to go fully electric within the next 15 years.

Whitmer pushed for modernization and climate adaptation of infrastructure in the state.

“In industrial states like Michigan, we have seen the loss of jobs to automation, modernization, and market changes. But our economy is vibrant. Michigan is not just the auto capital of the world, we’re the advanced mobility leader,” Whitmer said. “Transportation is the biggest source of climate pollution in America. Focusing on electric trucks, buses, and cars – and the batteries that will propel them – will create jobs for the future, clean the air, and help us compete with Europe and China in this rapidly expanding market. Michigan is leading the way in this work.”

Related: Whitmer sets goal to make Michigan carbon-neutral by 2050

Federal help for states

Whitmer told the Senate committee that state budgets are hurting from impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and urged federal help, including the reauthorization of long-term federal surface transportation legislation.

“Funding stability provided by federal transportation programs is crucial for Michigan’s extensive capital investment needs, the needs which take multiple years to plan and construct, especially during a time of financial duress. Short-term program extensions are damaging because they can cause unnecessary program disruptions and delay essential safety and mobility benefits to Michigan communities,” Whitmer added.

Related: Gov. Whitmer proposes $67 billion Michigan budget that prioritizes pandemic recovery


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital special projects manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013.