From the Top
Michigan has spent decades investing in infrastructure through myriad channels—from public acts guiding distribution of transportation revenue to multibillion-dollar ventures into water quality and road repair. Over that time, however, the state continued to see its inner workings fall into disrepair, with crumbling bridges and roadways, a lack of broadband and other communications connections in large portions of the state, as well as a catastrophic drinking water crisis in Flint.
All of these issues eventually earned the state a “D+” rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The Cast and Crew
To address the continued dilapidation, former Gov. Rick Snyder issued Executive Order 2016-5, which created the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission. This 27-member task force was charged with developing a comprehensive 50-year vision for improving the state’s communications, energy, transportation, and water infrastructure systems, as well as providing recommendations to the governor and the legislature.
The Plot Thickens
The issues facing the state and the commission were several fold. Michigan spends less than 4 percent of its budget on infrastructure, so efficiently using this funding and getting the most value out of existing assets are paramount to effectively addressing long-term infrastructure planning and management. The commission, having members of varying expertise, immediately encountered the massive challenge of understanding how best to approach the issues of Michigan’s infrastructure—the costs, the expanse, identifying what “infrastructure” fully included, and organizing the group well enough to put forth cohesive and impactful recommendations in a report to the governor, legislature, and eventually the state as a whole. Seeking assistance with facilitating all members through the processes, such as establishing common knowledge among the group; supplying objective, broad, and thorough data; and producing a printed product that is both useful and engaging, the commission quickly hired PSC.
Michigan spends less than 4 percent of its budget on infrastructure, so efficiently using this funding and getting the most value out of existing assets are paramount to effectively addressing long-term infrastructure planning and management.
Research, Innovate, Action
Upon entering the infrastructure scene, PSC staffed the commission, breaking the group into four subgroups in communications, energy, transportation, and water. Project staff then distilled the process down into the main foci—grounding, visioning, and drafting recommendations over the course of eight months. The work closed knowledge gaps, fostered agreement among the wide array of representatives, solved intricate problems, and empowered the commission’s action. By the end of the project, all commissioners had a common level of understanding about the issues at hand, which is no small feat considering the siloed nature of the thousands of infrastructure management organizations in Michigan and the diverse backgrounds of commission members. The process also led to a unified description of a desired future for Michigan’s infrastructure and a final report containing the commission’s recommendations.
PSC placed staff members with each subgroup to facilitate the recommendation process, coordinating with various government agencies and other consultants to gather and synthesize required information. The firm’s work with the commission covered tasks from developing operations documents to planning, facilitating, and summarizing full commission discussions to engaging in deep research to supply the commission with every piece necessary to create an actionable 50-year strategy for the state. PSC’s expert research covered best practices for infrastructure planning and asset management, financing and funding strategies, and infrastructure investment models and policies from other states and countries. After refining the data and writings of the different subgroups, PSC developed a highly designed final report of nearly 200 pages detailing the commission’s vision for Michigan and providing recommendations for reaching this vision to the governor and legislature.
For Michigan and Beyond
One of the most visible outcomes of this work was the creation a single organization that would use lessons learned in regional infrastructure pilot programs to create a statewide asset management database. During the course of the project, there were 619 separate road agencies, 79 transit agencies, 1,390 drinking water systems, 1,080 wastewater systems, 116 electric utilities, ten natural gas utilities, and 43 broadband providers in Michigan. PSC’s work showed that the state’s many infrastructure organizations were too siloed, and that without unification, long-term management of the state’s communications, energy, transportation, and water assets would prove too inefficient to use the small, dedicated portion of the state’s budget effectively.
Bringing the report’s recommendation to life, the State passed an act to create the Michigan Infrastructure Council (MIC). This council is made up of representatives from the Transportation Asset Management Council, the Water Asset Management Council, and the Michigan Public Service Commission, as well as policy experts, utility and infrastructure owners, regional representatives, financial experts, and state department directors. These members work together to create a culture of asset management in Michigan rather than reactiveness, and are responsible for creating a viable 30-year strategy for Michigan infrastructure based on data from the asset management system they’re charged with developing. The MIC also created the Asset Management Readiness Scale to help users identify and rank their asset management competency, a key step toward fulfilling their 30-year vision.
Helen Taylor, State Director, The Nature Conservancy of Michigan