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Sunday, 25 May 2014 22:00

Q&A: Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

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Lt. Gov. Brian Calley Lt. Gov. Brian Calley COURTESY PHOTO

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley served as the keynote speaker at the Urban Land Institute of Michigan infrastructure conference this month in Lansing. MiBiz spoke with Calley before his address to discuss how the Governor’s office is approaching fixes to the state’s ailing infrastructure. Calley said it’s time to make big moves to find a solution.

Some sources feel that certain parts of the state take priority over others when it comes to appropriating state funds for infrastructure-based development projects. What’s your reaction?

Ironically, everybody in the state feels that way because there is just not enough for anywhere. If you were to visit the Upper Peninsula or Southeast Michigan or West Michigan, everybody is feeling the impact of being $1 billion-plus short per year on what it takes to maintain and rebuild our roads.

How does the state decide where to distribute the funds that are available?

The funding and distribution system is a system that’s been in place for a long time. We put on the table a couple of years ago some ideas to change it based on traffic patterns and economic arteries, and we still think that’s an important aspect of the discussion. But at this point, we’re working hard to grow the size of the pie that’s dedicated to fixing our roads and bridges.

The Michigan Department of Transportation insists that because there isn’t enough money to maintain the state’s current infrastructure, it’s too costly for the organization to consider potential projects that would remove some portions of highways from cities. Do you think these projects are worth considering?

There are a lot of people looking at those sorts of items in urban centers. There are some freeway-style roads that might be better as other types of roads. However, our main concern is that people are able to get where they need to go. So when it comes to the methods that determine what the appropriate roads are for a particular situation — I’m not an engineer and I can’t tell you what makes sense where — but I do have a lot of confidence in the people we have working on these things.

There is a growing body of people who insist more investment in better public transit could alleviate some of the burden on the state’s roads and bridges. Does the Governor plan to bolster mass transit funding in a meaningful way?

The way that the funding formula works is that there is money available out of the normal transportation fund that goes to public transit development. So as we grow the size of that pie, the amount of resources for public transit will improve as well. I think that there is a lot of merit to a better connected public transit system. It would take a lot of pressure off roads, but it’s proving to be a difficult hurdle to get multiple counties with multiple sets of values on the same page.

What is the current status of better connecting the east and west sides of the state by rail?

We did purchase a few years ago the rail system with the idea that we want to get it back up to 110 mph speed. What’s held us back for a long time is that consumers haven’t looked at it as a realistic option because it can only go 35 to 40 mph.

At the same time, doesn’t freight traffic still take priority over passenger trains?

It’s a matter of where the demand is for the rail use, and frankly there hasn’t been that been much commuter rail demand. But when we upgrade it to the point where it’s able to achieve high speeds and save people time, I think it will become a much more viable option. So that has been a priority and one where the project is underway.

Overall it seems like progress on infrastructure improvements has been taking baby steps. Should we expect more of the same going forward?

Well, we’ve been taking baby steps over the course of the last few years, so now it’s time to take a bigger step and that’s what we’re hoping happens right now with the type of push and awareness people have now. More people are starting to understand the risks of having poorly maintained roads, and it’s proving to be a big cost on our residents.

Interview conducted and condensed by Elijah Brumback.

Read 4350 times Last modified on Sunday, 25 May 2014 21:50

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