Mackinac Island, Mich. (Michigan News Source) — Governor Gretchen Whitmer is turning to the public to solve Michigan’s road woes with a $100,000 prize for the most innovative transportation idea.

Announced at the Mackinac Policy Conference, the “Shark Tank-style” PitchMI competition aims to uncover solutions for the state’s crumbling infrastructure and mobility issues in 2024. The winning idea will not only receive financial backing but also gain significant exposure.

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“Is it a new way to fix the roads? Maybe it’s improving the range and efficiency of electric vehicle batteries or connecting public transit systems,” Whitmer said on May 30. “To everyone out there who eats, sleeps, and breathes fixing the damn roads, now is your chance.”

Whitmer’s request for new solutions is particularly timely. 

Michigan is nearing the end of a $3.5 billion bond issued in 2019 for highway reconstruction, which leaves the state facing a potential annual revenue shortfall of up to $3.9 billion for continued road maintenance. As more electric vehicles take to the roads, traditional funding mechanisms are becoming less effective, prompting the legislature to consider alternatives such as a road usage-based tax. Moreover, the specific state agency to oversee the PitchMI initiative has not yet been determined.

Whitmer’s announcement also brings to mind her 2018 campaign slogan, “fix the damn roads,” which, despite concerns about the language, quickly became a rallying cry for Michiganders frustrated with the state’s road conditions.

The persistence of this mantra in Whitmer’s speeches, including her recent keynote at the Mackinac Policy Conference, raises questions about the progress made since her initial gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Despite Whitmer’s public promise and substantial funding efforts, Michigan’s roads remain in disrepair, causing continued frustration among residents.

In addition to the PitchMI competition, Whitmer announced the appointment of Ben Marchionna as Michigan’s first Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer. Marchionna, currently the Director of Technology and Innovation at a sustainable air travel startup, will be tasked with fostering a “community of innovation” across the state.

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To support innovators, Whitmer signed an executive directive requiring state agencies to compile a list of available equipment, technology, and facilities. Furthermore, the state plans to collaborate with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, using military infrastructure for testing entrepreneurial ideas.