MSU, U-M, Wayne State experts propose solutions to Michigan’s infrastructure challenges

June 25, 2019

DETROIT _ Experts from Michigan’s three universities that make up the University Research Corridor (URC) joined today with business and community leaders and local, state and federal officials to hold a wrap-up forum recapping the URC’s Infrastructure Innovation Tour. The forum 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.

During the forum, URC experts ― joined by business and community leaders and local, state and federal officials ― explored how to implement what has been learned from the tour and discussed infrastructure solutions for Detroit and other communities around the state. The three URC institutions ― Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University ― 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.

“Our state faces many infrastructure challenges, with consequences impacting millions of Michiganders across the state,” said Britany Affolter-Caine, URC executive director. “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.”

URC experts, including engineering professors from all three universities, met today at Wayne State University’s Integrated Biosciences Center (IBio) with Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson and a host of private-sector professionals who brought expertise in many areas of infrastructure improvement. Elizabeth Riggs, managing director of Freshwater Coast Solutions, moderated the discussion.

“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.”

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 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 school work 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.

“The six-stop tour has brought forward the real-world innovations that the URC universities are discovering and placing into the marketplace. Both governmental entities and private companies are finding tremendous value in URC-based developments,” Affolter-Caine said. “Using their campuses as best-practice laboratories, our three universities are testing innovations and turning discoveries into solutions.”

Past stops on the URC Infrastructure Innovation Tour included discussions in Monroe (algae and water infrastructure), Sanilac County (rural broadband access), Sterling Heights (roads), Kalamazoo (PFAS contamination) and Sault Ste. Marie (challenges in maritime trade).

About Michigan’s University Research Corridor
Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC) is an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University and the leading engine for innovation in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. URC universities collectively invested over $1.64 billion in infrastructure research and development from 2012-16, finding solutions to issues around the state. The URC is focused on increasing economic prosperity and connecting Michigan to the world.


For More Information: Kathy Barks Hoffman Mobile: (517) 256-9166