The final of six stops in the URC Infrastructure Innovation Tour, this forum in Detroit discussed all five of the impact areas explored previously on the Infrastructure Innovation tour, highlighting statewide impacts, implications and paths forward.

Topic Areas include:

  • Algal blooms on water and the direct effect on infrastructure, communities, industry and human health
  • Water infrastructure and contamination issues, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  • Rural and urban access to broadband, and securing widespread connectivity
  • Impacts of Michigan’s failing road infrastructure on communities, and research underway to meet these challenges
  • Economic and environmental challenges and opportunities surrounding maritime shipping and lock expansion

Watch the video here

Tour Coverage & Content

Michigan’s three major research universities that make up the University Research Corridor (URC) ― Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University ― hosted the final stop on the URC’s statewide Infrastructure Innovation Tour at Wayne State University’s Integrated Biosciences Center (IBio) in Detroit.

The discussion reviewed key lessons learned during the first five stops on the tour involving water quality and algal blooms, access to broadband, fixing roads and bridges, PFAS contamination and challenges in maritime trade.

A panel of experts from the URC, business and community leaders and local, state and federal officials discussed potential solutions for Detroit and other communities around the state and explored next steps.

WSU President M. Roy Wilson opened the event with a warm welcome to the esteemed panelists and audience participants.



He noted that the three URC institutions have conducted $1.64 billion in infrastructure-related research and development over the past five years and continue to work with others on everything from better road construction materials to new and less expensive ways to filter PFAS contamination from drinking water.

“While Wayne State is deeply involved in finding solutions to many of Michigan’s infrastructure challenges, it is through the partnership we have with Michigan State University and the University of Michigan that our researchers are able to do some of their most innovative work,” Wilson said. “All three of our public universities are dedicated to helping Michigan and its residents have clean water, smooth roads, internet access, good jobs and a vibrant environment.”



URC summary presentation of the tour followed, which included insights from a tour report commissioned by the URC.

The five takeaways from the tour were:

  1. There’s a great need and desire for greater coordination between URC researchers and those “on the ground” dealing with these infrastructure challenges.
  2. Communities are not waiting – they are creating their own innovative solutions.
  3. Engagement is meaningful. There are few substitutes for being present.
  4. In an emerging crisis, it is critically important to incorporate the questions our elected officials are being asked to answer from their constituents.
  5. Beyond the technological innovations, it is critical to consider the economic impacts for residents – jobs, jobs, jobs.

Our state faces many infrastructure challenges, with consequences impacting millions of Michiganders across the state. Researchers at URC universities are laser-focused on helping solve these challenges. And they are eager to share what they know with policymakers, business and community leaders and the public.

The challenge for experts at the forum was to discuss the implications of the URC’s tour takeaways for Detroit and communities across the state.

Elizabeth Riggs, managing director for Freshwater Coast Solutions, LLC, moderated a panel of experts, as follows:

  • Carol Miller, Wayne State University professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Healthy Urban Waters director
  • Leo C. Kempel, dean, Michigan State University College of Engineering
  • Peter Adriaens, professor, University of Michigan Environmental Engineering, Finance & Entrepreneurship
  • Kerry C. Duggan, partner at RIDGE-LANE Limited/RIDGE-LANE Capital, Sustainability Practice; founder and principal at SustainabiliD
  • Eric Pardini, senior consultant, Public Sector Consultants
  • Kirk T. Steudle, senior vice president, Econolite Systems; former Michigan Department of Transportation director
  • Dennis P. Sugrue, P.E., lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army; Ph.D. candidate, University of Michigan
  • Joseph Sawasky, president & CEO, Merit Network, Inc.
  • Britany Affolter-Caine, URC executive director



The panelists encouraged the URC and attendees to add a sixth takeaway – to use a more integrated approach to tackling infrastructure challenges. Too often infrastructure issues are siloed – roads and other transportations issues are not typically considered in discussions of water, energy or communications infrastructure, but these issues are interrelated and should be considered interconnected.

Furthermore, an integrated approach to infrastructure challenges would enable experts to identify common themes that cross the different sectors, including the role of innovation and university research in infrastructure solutions. Kirk T. Steudle, senior vice president of Econolite Systems and former director of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), said research at Michigan universities working under the unique partnership of the URC are leading the way in developing innovative infrastructure renewal projects.

“Michigan and the U.S. need the advanced infrastructure technology being worked on by the three URC universities,” he said. “I appreciate the way the URC has created a way for researchers to engage with business, political and community leaders and to share these new technologies with those working to resolve our worsening transportation woes.”

Kerry C. Duggan, a partner in the sustainability practice at RIDGE-LANE LP who helped bring federal assistance to Detroit under President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, said that communities across Michigan and throughout the country need a fresh approach — starting with the capacity to take on the technical support from Michigan’s top-notch research universities — to address aged infrastructure while building resilience to withstand climate impacts, from energy to water to transportation to the buildings where people live, work and play.

“The research being done at the URC universities, combined with their top-notch, can-do students, are capable of being the innovators and implementors who will dig in to solve our region’s biggest infrastructure woes,” she said. “In this way, the URC is bettering our communities, bringing regional solutions to regional problems.”

Joseph Sawasky, president & CEO of Merit Network Inc., noted that both rural and urban communities suffer from a lack of broadband access, although sometimes for different reasons. Working with the three public universities allied in the URC has made it easier to find ways to close the digital divide and reduce the homework gap. “Without equal access to broadband Internet, too many Michigan children can’t do schoolwork at home and are in real danger of being left behind in the 21st century,” he said. “These forums set up by the URC have the potential to erase some of these hurdles and provide added support for initiatives such as Merit Network’s Michigan Moonshot.”


Engineering professors Carol Miller of Wayne State and Peter Adriaens of U-M, along with MSU College of Engineering Dean Leo C. Kempel, talked about how using data to create solutions that can be used by federal, state and local leaders is one way the URC is leading on innovation. 

Dennis P. Sugrue of the Army Corps of Engineers, who’s currently a doctoral student at U-M, discussed the challenges of balancing commercial and environmental interests in the area surrounding the Soo Locks, and Eric Pardini, a senior consultant Public Sector Consultants who wrote the URC Infrastructure Innovation report that came out last fall, gave an overview of the overall infrastructure concerns Michigan faces.

Summary URC Tour, June 2019

Host: M. Roy Wilson, President, Wayne State University

Presenter: Britany Affolter-Caine, Executive Director, Michigan’s University Research Corridor

Moderator: Elizabeth Riggs, Managing Director, Freshwater Coast Solutions, LLC


  • Carol Miller, Professor, Wayne State University Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director, Healthy Urban Waters
  • Leo C. Kempel, Dean, Michigan State University College of Engineering
  • Peter Adriaens, Professor, University of Michigan Environmental Engineering, Finance & Entrepreneurship
  • Kerry C. Duggan, Partner, RIDGE-LANE Limited/ RIDGE-LANE Capital, Sustainability Practice and Founder & Principal, SustainabiliD LLC
  • Eric Pardini, Senior Consultant, Public Sector Consultants
  • Kirk T. Steudle, Senior Vice President, Econolite Systems
  • Joseph Sawasky, President and CEO, Merit Network, Inc.
  • Dennis P. Sugrue, P.E. Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army and PhD Candidate, University of Michigan

Read more about our speakers and panelists HERE.

Watch the full video here.


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