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    10 Mar 2017

    America's infrastructure still rates no better than D+, engineering experts say

    America is literally falling apart. The most authoritative report of the country’s infrastructure gave the country’s crumbling roads, bridges, dams, schools and other essential underpinnings an overall D+ grade on Thursday. Not a single element of America’s framework received an A grade.
    The American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) quadrennial infrastructure “report card” painted a grim picture of the US’s backbone. According to the organization’s analysis, there hasn’t been much improvement in the state of America’s transportation, water, energy, education and waste management programs since the last report was released, in 2013.
    The report comes after Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to rebuild America’s broken infrastructure, plans that appear to have stalled amid a backlash against government spending. It also comes after a series of disasters, including lead in the water of Flint, Michigan, and other municipalities, and the evacuation of 200,000 in California after the near-collapse of a major dam.
    The report card, broken into sections, analyzes aviation (D), bridges (C+), dams (D), drinking water (D), energy (D+), hazardous waste (D+), inland waterways (D), levees (D), parks and recreation (D+), ports (C+), railways (B), roads (D), schools (D+), solid waste (C), public transit (D-) and wastewater (D+) resources.
    Of the 16 categories, seven had shown minor improvements and three had declined, with the remainder maintaining the same dismal grades. The overall D+ score was consistent with the findings of the 2013 report.
    ASCE says in its report that the country currently faces more than $2tn in infrastructure funding shortfalls, which it estimates will, by 2025, cost the wider US economy $3.9tn and 2.5m domestic jobs. The ASCE estimates the average cost to American families in time lost in traffic, delayed flights and other infrastructure snafus is $3,400 in disposable income a year. 
    “While our nation’s infrastructure problems are significant, they are solvable,” Norma Jean Mattei, ASCE’s president, said in a statement. “We need our elected leaders – those who pledged to rebuild our infrastructure while on the campaign trail – to follow through on those promises with investment and innovative solutions that will ensure our infrastructure is built for the future.”
    Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, echoed the dire sentiments expressed in ASCE’s report, noting that long-term funding issues needed to be solved in order to reverse the decline seen over the past two decades.
    “The grades in the ASCE report card provide yet another example of what occurs when a nation underinvests in the critical infrastructure systems that support economic development and quality of life,” he said.
    The grading system is simple: A = exceptional, fit for the future; B = good, adequate for now; C = Mediocre, requires attention; D = poor, at risk; F = failing, unfit for purpose. The ASCE handed out only one B grade, to railways, and not a single A.
    Roads and aviation, among the lowest-scoring categories in the report, are perhaps the most visible to the average American. ASCE says that increasing passenger volume at airports around the country could soon lead to Thanksgiving holiday levels of congestion at 24 of 30 major facilities. Thanks to a fifth of American roads being in poor condition, traffic delays are on the rise on the country’s roads. ASCE says the decline cost motorists and shippers $160bn in wasted fuel and time in 2014.
    In its study of 471 urban areas, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute put the cost of 14.7m hours of road traffic delays at $338m in 2014 – or $960 per commuter.
    Congestion on the country’s 25,000 miles of inland waterways is also on the rise, thanks to a surfeit of ageing locks and dams, most of which have stood for more than half a century. Delays and stoppages risk limiting the movement of 600m tons of freight – 14% of America’s annual freight tonnage.
    The nation’s dams also fared poorly in ASCE’s report. Typically, dams and water supply structures occupy little of the public consciousness – unless disaster strikes, as it nearly did in northern California last month when 200,000 people were evacuated downstream of the crumbling, rain-besieged Oroville dam. The average age of 90,580 dams across the country is 56 years, and ASCE estimates that $45bn is needed to repair 15,500 high-hazard dams.
    Downstream from reservoirs, an ageing network of drinking water pipes requires attention to the tune of $1tn over the next 25 years, according a report to the American Water Works Association. ASCE says an estimated 240,000 water main failures every year waste 2tn gallons of already-treated drinking water.
    Along with its gloomy assessment of the country’s ailing infrastructure, ASCE also offered suggestions to help fix it. Among them were increasing investment from federal, state and local agencies from 2.5% to 3.5% of GDP over the next decade, raising fuel taxes and educating Americans about the true cost of providing robust infrastructure. The organization also suggested leveraging limited funding, streamlining development regulations, embracing emerging technologies and investing in better land use planning and expanded research and development.
    “While Congress and states have made some effort to improve infrastructure, it’s not enough,” Greg DiLoreto, a former ASCE president, said. “To see real progress, we need to make long-term infrastructure investment a priority. Investing now will create economic opportunity, enhance quality of life, and ensure public health and safety.”
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