The A.I. Interview: Governor of the Year, Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan

Meet American Infrastructure Magazine’s Governor of the Year: Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She is working to rebuild Michigan infrastructure

Governor Gretchen Whitmer was elected Michigan’s 49th governor in 2018, winning all 83 counties in the primary and 53 percent of the vote in the general election. Her campaign was centered on an action plan for rebuilding Michigan’s aging infrastructure, quickly garnering bipartisan support.

Michigan’s infrastructure is subject to various forms of extreme weather, from heavy snowfalls to flooding. Michigan’s latest infrastructure rating from the ASCE was a D+. According to a report from TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, driving on Michigan roads in their current state costs Michigan drivers $4.6 billion annually in the form of additional repair costs.

Governor Whitmer is working hard to spur investment in infrastructure systems across Michigan. According to her plan, between 15,000 and 24,000 jobs could be created or sustained through every $1 billion invested. The kind of investment that Governor Whitmer is working for could increase transportation safety, commute efficiency, and socioeconomic mobility.

She has already achieved a number of successes. She strengthened non-discrimination protections and secured equal pay, both of which help fuel the economy. She entered Michigan into the US Climate Alliance, which is a bipartisan coalition of governors that have committed to goals consistent with those of the Paris Agreement. She reorganized and strengthened the Department of Environmental Quality to create the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which will encompass a wide range of topics related to making infrastructure more resilient in the face of climate change.

Moving into 2020, she will continue to energize the state to invest in its infrastructure — strengthening the economy as a result.

American Infrastructure: Congratulations on winning American Infrastructure Magazine’s annual recognition for Governor of the Year! What major changes have you seen in Michigan’s infrastructure in 2019?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer: Thank you for this honor; I appreciate being recognized by American Infrastructure Magazine. Since taking office in January, I have remained committed to working to improve Michigan’s infrastructure. From roads, to bridges, to water pipes, Michigan has a lot of work to do. That’s why I was proud to present bold solutions that would strengthen Michigan communities, grow our economy and put all Michiganders on a road to opportunity and economic prosperity. I’m extremely proud of our state departments for working on implementing innovative and realistic solutions to help address the growing infrastructure problems that we’re facing as a state.

AI: Extreme storms and weather led to a number of challenges in the Midwest in terms of agriculture and infrastructure. How can we make infrastructure more resilient to these extreme levels of snow and rain?

GW: Michigan has a rich history and background in agriculture and it was clear after such extreme storms and weather that we needed to continue to support our farmers and their families by taking action to assist during these difficult times. Michigan is currently in the midst of the third wettest year in state history, with 37.9 inches of rain between May 1, 2018, and April 30, 2019. This weather has delayed and prevented farmers from planting their crops as usual, with 69 out of Michigan’s 83 counties requesting disaster designations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year. I will continue to work hard at every level of government to ensure that our Michigan farmers have the support they need, which includes advancing agricultural infrastructure.

AI: You’ve been quoted as saying, “We are all paying to fix our cars when we should be paying to fix the road.” How do you hope to improve funding to infrastructure projects in Michigan?

GW: It’s no secret that Michigan has the worst roads in the nation. Michigan received a grade of D- for our roads from the American Society of Civil Engineers – with just 18 percent in “good” condition. I proposed a comprehensive plan that would fix our roads in the present and prevents this problem in the future, saving Michiganders hundreds of dollars on unforeseen car repairs.

AI: The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world’s freshwater. What can we do to protect these bodies of water, and why is it vital to the infrastructure conversation?

GW: The Midwest region is defined by our Great Lakes. Michigan’s economy, our jobs, drinking water, and public health all depend on this precious resource, with 51 million jobs relying on us to preserve and protect the Great Lakes. It is vital that when we discuss infrastructure, we are including the Great Lakes in the discussion. The shared priorities of the Great Lakes region should be the shared priorities of all Americans.

AI: What do you hope for Michigan to accomplish in terms of infrastructure in 2020?

GW: I’m determined and taking steps so that Michigan is back on a path to opportunity and that includes investing in infrastructure. We need to ensure roads will be built and repaired with the right mix and materials, so the roads are more reliable and safer for Michigan drivers. By investing in infrastructure today, we’re saving money in the long run by cutting down the need for costly repairs on failing infrastructure later.

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