DETROIT (WXYZ) — As the governor prepares to release her plan to fix the roads, engineers and transportation officials from throughout Michigan gathered in Detroit Thursday morning to talk about potential solutions.
Members of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) hosted the even at the Detroit Athletic Club. Lieutenant Governor Garland Gilchrist, MDOT Director Paul Ajegba and Warren County Executive Warren Evans were among those who spoke at the event which paired topics of minority involvement in transportation solutions, and the future of transportation in Michigan.
“The future of transportation belongs to all of us,” said COMTO Michigan President Regine Beauboeurf. “We need to have those discussions, all of us need to be involved because we are going to have to agree on what the plan is, and the funding for the plan.”
The cost of solutions looms large — Governor Gretchen Whitmer ran on a campaign of infrastructure needs, championing the phrase “fix the damn roads.”
At the State of the State she stopped short of detailing how she plans to make that happen, but experts at Thursday’s event noted that any fix can’t be viewed as a band-aid. There were discussions about the need to look ahead at where the needs will be in 50 years, which brought discussions of how stoplights, broadband internet needs and other thing will play a role in future roads.
The cost of such ideas comes with a price tag though, and those who were in attendance stopped short of talking policy.
“In the next few weeks you’ll see exactly what our proposal is,” said Lt. Governor Gilchrist when asked how they’ll fund transportation issues. “That will open the door to the legislature and we’ll see how that goes.”
Asked if he believed there would be stick shock, Gilchrist responded: “Well, it’s going to be a good discussion.”
Others, such as MDOT’s director, stopped short of discussing the plan but during the question and answer section of a panel he noted that Michigan is in dire need of a cash infusion to make proper fixes.
“The funding has not caught up with our needs,” he said. “We have a lot of needs and not enough resources, so the challenge now is for the legislature to say: ‘We need more funding.’”
Transportation, of course, extends beyond the roads. County Executive Evans spoke about the needs of mass transit beyond Wayne County — his comments reflected back on a pro-longed battle that had various counties taking sides on how to handle regional transit funding. Evans told those in the room, he thinks that the tide is turning and that more people are willing to approve public transportation funding in the future.
“I think the reason it went down in flames last year is because the leaders of those counties weren’t as adamant as people,” said Evans. “It wasn’t a matter of the people, but the leaders saying ‘Oh, God we have to keep it off the ballot.’”