Earmarks are back, which Michigan projects will make the cut?

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This week, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began debating a $547 billion highway bill, which, among other things, resurrects an old practice: the use of member earmarks for projects.
On this week's podcast, Susan Howard, program director for transportation finance of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, talks about the process, the pros and cons, and what else we can expect.
In the second segment, Matt Chynoweth, chief bridge engineer at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), talks about the largest dollar amount targeted for Michigan, a $20 million earmark for the Miller Road/Rotunda Drive bridge in Dearborn.

First, Howard talks about the highway reauthorization legislation, titled the INVEST in America Act, and the differences in today's earmarks versus those of the past, mostly provisions for transparency. There is a cap on the number of projects members can submit per fiscal year and they must provide evidence their communities support the earmarks they submit. Also, any member submitting a request must post it online at the same time they submit their proposal to the Appropriations Committee.

Howard also talks about the status of separate negotiations for President Biden's American Jobs Plan and what happens now that talks broke off between the president and the Senate Republicans' top negotiator, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito. Talks have resumed with a bipartisan group of senators.

Michigan projects

Most Michigan Congressional representatives included some projects in the bill. In addition to the Miller Road/Rotunda Drive bridge submitted by Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, requested $14.7 million to rebuild the US-131 interchange with US-131 Business Route in Kalamazoo, and U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, sought $10 million to rebuild M-46 and M-19 in Oscoda County. U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, included some local street projects for the city of Grand Rapids.

MDOT's Chynoweth explains the bridge bundling concept and the work needed on the Miller Road/Rotunda Drive bridge. Because of the bridge's vital role supporting the Ford Rouge plant, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has highlighted the need for rebuilding it. The balance of the $60 million needed to replace the bridge would come from the governor's $300 million local bridge bundling proposal.

Other components of the bill would support electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The bill also would authorize $750 million annually over four years for MDOT to award funding to remediate, retrofit or even remove transportation facilities to restore mobility or access within "disadvantaged and underserved communities."

The Detroit News explains why I-375 in Detroit is such an example.

Other references:


Episode photo: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tours the Miller Rd/Rotunda Dr bridge near the Ford Motor Co. River Rouge complex and I-94 in Dearborn.

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