3/30/17 - Business groups urge quick passage of piping materials bill to address Michigan’s infrastructure challenges

LANSING, MI, March 30th, 2017 – Passage of a new state law to reform piping standards for public projects would be a move in the right direction for Michigan, said an alliance of business groups in announcing its support for Senate Bill 157. The bill, the “Public Works Quality Procurement Act,” will allow for the consideration of all piping materials that meet performance specifications for state-funded water infrastructure projects.

Michigan is facing a growing problem with our state’s water infrastructure, the coalition members in support of SB 157 include:, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association of Michigan (HBAM) and the Michigan Chemistry Council.

For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave a grade of “D” to the nation’s drinking water infrastructure and a “D+” to the nation’s wastewater infrastructure. In Michigan, the ASCE estimates that nearly $16 billion of investments are needed to fix the state’s drinking and wastewater infrastructure over the next 20 years. The groups urged the Legislature to find a way to fund these projects in a cost-effective way that allows the state to also address other infrastructure challenges.

“It is important for the Michigan Legislature to act to encourage modernization of our state’s water infrastructure,” said Lee Schwartz, Executive Vice President, Home Builders Association of Michigan.

“From Flint to Fraser and beyond, we are seeing the unfolding crisis in our water systems in Michigan,” Schwartz said. “This legislation empowers engineers and communities to utilize the best available options, as decided by them, to address repairs and improvements.”

Sen. Rick Jones (R-Eaton County) introduced SB 157, which already has passed the Michigan Competitiveness Committee with overwhelming support.

The legislation would allow local engineers to consider all appropriate piping materials for water infrastructure projects. Currently, a large number of municipalities artificially limit the materials that can be considered, creating virtual monopolies that increase project costs and thereby limit the number of aging pipes that can be replaced. A recent study showed that municipalities that have “closed competition” pay between 27 percent and 34 percent more for pipe materials, regardless of what material is used. That means even if the same material is chosen, the municipality can save up to $114,000 per mile of pipe by allowing open competition.

“The use of open competition is a common-sense practice that has been endorsed by a number of federal and state authorities, including the Governor’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission,” said John Dulmes, Director of the Michigan Chemistry Council. “This legislation will help drive critical improvements in our state’s water systems.”

The groups also addressed some misconceptions about what the bill would and would not do. This bill does not remove any control from local engineers, who still retain all final decisions on material selection. The bill simply allows localities to consider all appropriate materials that may not have been allowed for previous projects. Additionally, this bill does not­ require localities to select the lowest cost material or bid. Costs are lowered because “virtually monopolies” are broken and competition brings costs down. Material selection or project specifications are in no way taken away from the local engineers.