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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Michigan's getting $10 billion in federal infrastructure funding. What will that mean for the state?

A group of construction trucks on road.
Zoi Palla
The federal infrastructure bill allocates approximately $10 billion to Michigan for roads, bridges, public transportation, water infrastructure, high-speed internet, and electric-vehicle charging systems.

Michigan is set to receive approximately $10 billion from the newly passed federal infrastructure bill. That includes money for roads, bridges, public transportation, water infrastructure, high-speed internet, and electric-vehicle charging systems.

This is in addition to the state's own budget for those types of projects, and on top of federal COVID relief money that remains unspent.

Michigan State University Professor of Economics Lisa Cook joined Michigan Radio's Morning Edition to talk about what that influx of cash will mean for Michigan. Cook served on the transition team as President Joe Biden took office, but was not speaking on behalf of the administration.

The importance of planning

For perspective, the current state budget, signed last month, has $3.5 billion for road repairs. The federal infrastructure bill has another $7.3 billion for Michigan's roads. Figuring out how to direct those dollars, and the rest of the federal funding, to projects across the state will be a major process. The dollars will be spread out over five years.

Cook believes Michigan is in a good position to handle the flow of funds.

Headshot of Lisa Cook
Michigan State University
Lisa Cook is a professor of economics at Michigan State University.

"Michigan is a fairly well-run state," Cook said. "The ability of a state to use funding depends on what it already has scheduled. We have over 1,200 bridges and over 7,000 miles of highway in poor condition. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan a D+ grade for infrastructure."

Cook said that means the funding has a chance to affect a high percentage of Michiganders.

"Everybody's got to travel on the roads. Many people depend on public transportation. Broadband has become part of our infrastructure. So this is a fair way to invest in long-run growth," she said.

Infrastructure projects can create construction, design, and architectural jobs. But how can that spending affect state and local economies beyond the projects themselves?

"Often these jobs are fairly short-lived. But because you're investing in long-run economic growth, you're investing in jobs that might be created because you're attracting another type of business that depends on this kind of infrastructure," Cook said. "The jobs don't just stop at the actual moment of construction."

How big is big enough?

The numbers are huge: $1.2 trillion total in the infrastructure bill and the possibility of another $1.75 trillion in spending, if Biden's Build Back Better plan passes. But some analysts and economists have said that's still not enough money to truly address the widespread needs in the U.S.

Cook agrees.

"Let's just start with infrastructure. We need $2.6 trillion in infrastructure, the American Society of Engineers reports. So, there's still a deficit of $1.4 trillion [in infrastructure spending after this bill]. I still applaud that it was passed. We can get started."

The Build Back Better bill has components often associated with a so-called social safety net, but Cook sees infrastructure in all of it.

"I am still calling it an infrastructure bill. I don't like the fact that it is being called a 'social spending' bill. It is a scandal that we are behind most of the other OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries, the rich countries, with respect to child care and elder care," Cook said.

"If we want people not only to come back to work in the short run, if we want people to come back in the long run, in a growing American economy, we really have to invest in that kind of infrastructure, which I think is equally important."

Editor's note: Some quotes in this story were edited for length. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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