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1st Friday Focus on the Environment: Advancing Michigan's infrastructure

Zachary Kolodin
State of Michigan
Zachary Kolodin


Zachary Kolodin serves as Chief Infrastructure Officer and Director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office.

Before joining the executive office, he was an associate at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP and served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman. Previously, he worked in the Office of Grants Policy and Operations at Americorps, and as a program administrator at the Roosevelt Institute, a New York City-based think tank. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and New York University School of Law.


Lisa Wozniak
Michigan League of Conservation Voters
Michigan League of Conservation Voters executive director Lisa Wozniak

Lisa’s career spans over two decades of environmental and conservation advocacy in the political arena. She is a nationally- recognized expert in non-profit growth and management and a leader in Great Lakes protections. Lisa is a three-time graduate from the University of Michigan, with a bachelor's degree and two ensuing master's degrees in social work and Education.

Lisa serves a co-host and content partner in 89.1 WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environment.'


Michigan League of Conservation Voters

Michigan Infrastructure Office

Governor Whitmer Announces Leadership of Michigan Infrastructure Office

Inflation Reduction Act of 2022


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the month of March. It just happens to be a Friday, which means we get to bring you First Friday Focus on the Environment. I'm David Fair, and on the first Friday of each month, we explore an environmental issue important from a statewide perspective. Now, with spring right around the corner, we thought it might be good to focus on rejuvenation. In this case, that's investments in improving our infrastructure. My partner and co-host on First Fridays is Lisa Wozniak. She serves as executive director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. And always a pleasure to have you here, Lisa.

Lisa Wozniak: Is spring really almost here, David? I really, really hope so.

David Fair: Me too! I am ready!

Lisa Wozniak: So, as you know, Dave, spring is the season of opportunity and new growth, which is a perfect time to talk about infrastructure change in our beautiful state. And our guest today is Zach Kolodin, who serves as the chief infrastructure officer for the state of Michigan and director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office. And this is a big job. Zach is basically leading efforts to secure federal dollars and coordinate and deploy statewide infrastructure strategies. So, thank you so much for making time for this conversation, Zach.

David Fair: We do appreciate it.

Zach Kolodin: Thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: Well, within the structure of state government, Zach, what exactly is the Infrastructure Office tasked with accomplishing?

Zach Kolodin:Great question. The Infrastructure Office is kind of a central coordinator between different parts of state government. So, the Biden administration signed into law a couple of really transformative infrastructure laws over the first couple of years of the administration: the first of those was the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2021 and the second, the Inflation Reduction Act, in 2022. And to some extent, the Chips and Science Act in 2022 also has some infrastructure investments as well. So, this really calls on states to organize their efforts across agencies to pursue these dollars in a coordinated way. And that's why the governor created the Michigan Infrastructure Office. We sort of operate as a, I like to say, infrastructure sub-cabinet. So, we pulled together groups of leaders within state government--think cabinet directors, deputy directors, those kind of folks--and make sure that they're pursuing the kinds of federal opportunities that really generate benefits for the people of Michigan and bring home those federal dollars to rebuild our infrastructure, create new sources of clean energy and bring down costs for folks across the state.

Lisa Wozniak: So, as you noted, we know that the investment of infrastructure is imperative. We also know that, here in the state of Michigan, that it's been insufficient for some time. I would say across the country that's been true. So, when the President signed these various acts into law, it provided literally billions of dollars to be invested in such projects. So, what does this meant for your ability to improve infrastructure in Michigan in the here and now?

Zach Kolodin: Yeah. You know, it affects all aspects of our infrastructure. So, the bipartisan infrastructure law makes really transformative investment in high-speed internet, to take just one example. Whereas the federal government had put millions toward high-speed internet prior to 2021 with the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program through the infrastructure law. It's now putting hundreds of billions, right? So, Michigan itself is receiving $1.6 billion to build out its broadband infrastructure. And that's going to be really transformative, extending high-speed internet to virtually every address in the state of Michigan and to do so at an affordable cost. So, that's just one example. But we see that play out across many different types of infrastructure--so, replacing lead service lines, installing new electric vehicle chargers, rebuilding our roads with an eye toward sustainability and equity. All of these things are possible because of this infrastructure law.

David Fair: WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment conversation with Zach Kolodin continues. Zach serves as director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office.

Lisa Wozniak: I think when most people think about infrastructure, the first thing that comes to mind is roads and bridges. And anyone who's tried to get from point A to point B over the last year or so probably noticed that there's a lot of work being done to, as Governor Whitmer would put it, "fix the damn roads." And what did the governor say at her State of the State address? I think she said something like, "There are so many orange cones blooming that they've become the state flower." How would you assess the progress on that front?

Zach Kolodin: I think we've done an incredible job getting to work, getting our major highways rebuilt, so that folks can get really anywhere in this state safely. And, without the kind of unscheduled delays that can arise from a pothole blowing out your tire or something like that. So, you see that on I-96. You see that on I-75. You know, even a new high occupancy vehicle lane on I-75 to help folks get traffic, if that's what they want to do. The flex lane on, on I-23 near Ann Arbor, similarly, allowing folks to get through the most difficult parts of the traffic schedule, in order to get to work fast or get back to their families faster. So, you really do see that. And I think you've seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of our state highways. The other major investment that I think we're starting to see more and more as these infrastructure dollars go from entries on a spreadsheet to pavement on the roads is improvements in safety in downtown communities. So, for example, the city of Kalamazoo made a plan to calm traffic in their downtown to revitalize pedestrian activity by building bump-outs and the kinds of things that protect pedestrians. And I think we'll see that revitalize small business activity in that city, as folks feel more and more comfortable using the downtown and crossing the street by biking from wherever they are to downtown Kalamazoo. And just recently, we saw $65 million in safe streets money flow to Michigan communities all across the state. So, I think we'll see that more and more.

David Fair: Electric vehicles are the future of the auto industry. If you listen to members of the auto industry, one of the biggest challenges has been the supporting infrastructure. It is clearly inadequate at this point. How is your office working to address EV infrastructure concerns?

Zach Kolodin: Well, there's a program for that, which is called the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program, and that's giving Michigan about $16 million a year to deploy toward putting EV chargers across what we call our alternative fuel corridors. These are basically the state highways that you need to use to access every corner of our state. So, what that means is we're going to make sure that there is sufficient, easy fast charging capacity. That's the kind of charger where you plug in your car, and 15 minutes later, it's fully charged. We're going to put those at least every 50 miles everywhere in the state so that you can get from Detroit to Sault Sainte Marie all the way across the U.P. and not worry about running out of charge. Beyond that, we are also seeing communities begin to deploy charging infrastructure in really creative ways. So, the city of Lansing is leading a project to bring electric vehicle infrastructure into the community and a lot of really exciting ways working with a wide coalition of stakeholders, throughout the tri-county region. And they recently won an $8 million grant to build out their project. So, I hope that we continue to see projects like that play out across the state. And my office is working to give folks the resources that they need to put together high-quality grant applications, so that they can go capture those dollars.

David Fair: Once again, we're talking with the director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office, Zach Kolodin, our guest on WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment.

Lisa Wozniak: Zach, water infrastructure has been and will continue to be a huge issue. What improvements is your office responsible for as it relates to water? And what will we be looking at in 2024?

Zach Kolodin: Well, I just want to say community leaders across the state really recognize that clean water coming out of the tap is a top priority for Michigan residents. I think the state revolving funds last year was up to $1.7 billion in available funding, and every dollar of that was claimed. But there were $5 billion in requests. So, folks understand that water infrastructure is needed to provide a high quality of life, and they're hustling to go get those dollars. What the state of Michigan has done is prioritize equitable investments--so prioritize investments in communities that have traditionally lacked access to water resources and have suffered from environmental justice concerns to begin to fix water pipes and replace lead service lines and clean up our water supply. We're also seeing major investments in wastewater. So, anytime you're thinking about the population of your community growing, and I know we all are thinking about that right now as we think about what the future of our state looks like and how we begin to grow our population to get to a more sustainable, prosperous future, you need wastewater. I mean, it's not pretty, but that's what allows populations to grow. And so, folks with outdated wastewater systems are replacing them. And then, folks that are looking to upsize their communities and build new housing, they need new wastewater systems as well. So, those federal dollars are flowing to both of those purposes.

David Fair: Well, there is a lot of challenges ahead and a lot of opportunity as well, so I hope we have the opportunity to have further conversations with you. Thank you for the time today.

Zach Kolodin: Thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: That is Zach Kolodin. He is chief infrastructure officer for the state of Michigan and director of the Michigan Infrastructure Office--our guest on WEMU's First Friday Focus on the Environment. My partner is Lisa Wozniak. She is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and we'll talk again in April.

Lisa Wozniak: I look forward to it, David.

David Fair: I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Lisa Wozniak is Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.
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