(WXMI) — For nearly a decade, James Zechlinksi has been casting his line from up on Smith’s Bridge in Ferrysburg. “I catch some crappie, blue gill, mainly perch,” says Zechlinksi.
The retired fisherman who lives close by has also caught a look at how this bridge, which takes drivers over the Ottawa County bayou, has changed over time.
“I see architects and engineers examining it, and what you hear on the news is that it definitely needs replacement,” he explained.
In the small West Michigan city, Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure takes center stage. In July of 2019, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer walked the then-closed bridge, highlighting the need for further investment to replace critical infrastructure.
“We have to get serious about fixing these problems; this is life and death in many ways,” she said at the time.
Despite its poor condition, residents fought and debated to keep the bridge open and traffic moving.
Now more than two years later, the state has finally set aside millions of dollars for its replacement.
The governor signed off on the new budget, which includes nearly $200 million to repair or replace 100 bridges in the state.
"Smith's Bridge is vital to our community, for commuters, public safety forces and school bus drivers," said Ferrysburg Mayor Rebecca Hopp. "I appreciate the governor following through on her pledge to commit funds to replace this lifeline and MDOT's ongoing help and support for our community.
But Smith’s bridge is just one of more than 1,000 bridges in the state listed in poor condition.
Our roads are even worse off; they received a “D-“ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Infrastructure bill impact
The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden Monday will help to address the critical need for infrastructure repairs, sending more than $7.3 billion dollars to Michigan to help fix roads and bridges over the next 5 years.
“We are extremely excited that the federal government has taken this step. It's certainly more money than we've seen since the 1940s, when our highway system was built first time,” says Lance Binoniemi, VP of government affairs at the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association.
But is it enough to bring Michigan’s infrastructure up to speed? Not quite.
“It's not $7.3 billion of additional money; it is $1.7 billion of additional money, which is a lot of money and it's going to do a lot of good for the state, but it certainly doesn't solve our overall long-standing problem that we have,” Binoniemi added.
According to a 2016 report by the state’s nonpartisan 21st Century Infrastructure Commission, the state would need to invest an additional $2 billion per year to get roads and bridges to where they need to be in the decades to come.
While the federal infrastructure bill and other recent one-time investments for repairs certainly help, Binoniemi says, “This isn't going to be solved by one thing or another; it's going to be solved by everyone getting together and coming up with solutions and investments.”
Michigan lawmakers understand that reality, but those who support the bill say it's still a historic step in the right direction.
“Certainly this legislation isn't going to solve all of our problems. We're going need to continue to deal with it, but it's a meaningful and a significant step forward,” Sen. Gary Peters (D–Michigan) told FOX 17’s Aaron Parseghian.
“But clearly we have to come together at the federal, state and local level to make the kinds of investments necessary to bring our infrastructure up to the standards that we should seek to achieve,” Peters added.