Infrastructure report card reveals a dire need for action

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Thursday, March 09, 2017

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report Card is out, and it is not good. ASCE gave the American infrastructure a grade of D+, highlighting the need for infrastructure funding. A “D” rating indicates the infrastructure is poor and at risk.

Every four years, ASCE rates the country’s 16 major infrastructure categories using an A to F scale similar to a school report card. In 2013, ASCE rated the infrastructure a D+ and estimated an investment of $3.6 trillion will be needed by 2020.

Civil engineers used the following criteria in their grading:

  • Capacity
  • Condition
  • Funding
  • Future need
  • Operation and maintenance
  • Public safety
  • Resilience
  • Innovation

Roads
Unchanged from 2013, U.S. roads were given a grade of D.

“America’s roads are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and are becoming more dangerous,” the report noted.

According to the report, more than two of every five miles of urban interstates are congested and one of five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition. Delays cost the nation $160 billion in time and fuel in 2014.

Funding has been a major issue. An $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge needs has been created, more than half of that cost needed for repairing existing highways while approximately $123 billion is needed for bridge repair. According to the Federal Highway Administration, for every $1 spent on road/bridge improvements, $5.20 is returned in the form of “lower vehicle maintenance costs, decreased delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, lower road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.”

In order to raise the grade, ASCE recommends an increase in funding across all levels of government, raising federal motor fuels tax and to expand the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program.

Bridges
Also remaining stagnant from the last report are bridges with a C+ grade.

With more than 600,000 bridges across the country, nearly four in 10 are 50 years or older. More than 56,000 are deemed structurally deficient, about 9 percent of all bridges. Although the percentage of bridges structurally deficient has decreased over the years, the age of bridges continues to increase.

Funding for bridges has been on the rise. In 2012, $17.5 billion was spent on bridge projects, $6 billion from the feds and $11.5 billion from state and local sources. In 2006, only $11.5 billion was spent total. More money is still needed before funding is considered sufficient.

As a percentage, Nevada (1.6 percent), Texas (1.7 percent) and Florida (2.1 percent) have the best rating regarding number of structurally deficient bridges. Rhode Island (24.9 percent), Iowa (20.5 percent) and Pennsylvania (19.8 percent) are among the worst.

ASCE recommends much of the same for bridges as it did for roads to bring up the grade, including increased funding across all levels of government and raising the federal motor fuels tax.

Other categories
Below is the 2017 ranking for the other 14 categories compared to their 2013 ranking:

  • Aviation: D (2017), D (2013)
  • Dams: D (2017), D (2013)
  • Drinking water: D (2017), D (2013)
  • Energy: D+ (2017), D+ (2013)
  • Hazardous waste: D+ (2017), D (2013)
  • Inland waterways: D (2017), D- (2013)
  • Levees: D (2017), D- (2013)
  • Ports: C+ (2017), C (2013)
  • Public parks: D+ (2017), C- (2013)
  • Rail: B (2017), C+ (2013)
  • Schools: D+ (2017), D (2013)
  • Solid waste: C+ (2017), B- (2013)
  • Transit: D- (2017), D (2013)
  • Wastewater: D+ (2017), D (2013)

Of the above 14 categories, seven experienced improvements. With the exception of rail, all improvements were minor, typically the difference between a D- and a D. However, rail did improve from a C+ in 2013 to a B in 2017, accounting for the only category with a grade better than a C+. Public parks, solid waste and transit all got worse over the past four years.

To see the full report, visit ASCE.org.

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