Home________ASCE National Infrastructure Report Card 

 

CIVIL ENGINEERS GIVE NATION'S INFRASTRUCTURE A "D+"


Shortfalls in funding and changing population patterns place burden on aging electrical plants, water systems, airports and schools.

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) today [3/8/2001] released its 2001 Report Card for America's Infrastructure in which the nation's infrastructure received a cumulative grade of "D+" for twelve infrastructure areas. Causes for such a dismal grade include: explosive population growth and school enrollment which outpace the rate and impact of current investment and maintenance efforts; local political opposition and redtape which stymie the development of effective solutions; and the growing obsolescence of an aging system - evident in the breakdown of California's electrical generation system and the nation's decaying water infrastructure.

"When you've got rolling blackouts in California, bridges crumbling in Milwaukee, and kids in Kansas City attending class in a former boys' restroom, something is desperately wrong," says ASCE President Robert W. Bein, a civil engineer from Irvine, California. "The solutions to these problems involve more than money, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. America has been seriously under-investing in its infrastructure for decades and this report card reflects that."

To remedy America's current and looming problem, ASCE estimates a needed $ 1.3 trillion investment over the next five years and calls for a renewed partnership between citizens, local, state and federal governments, and the private sector.

The 2001 Report Card follows one released in 1998, at which time the ten infrastructure categories rated were given an average grade of "D." While there have since been some efforts to address infrastructure shortfalls, ASCE's analysis shows that conditions remain basically the same. Five categories have gone up slightly but are still average or below. Grades in three categories - transit, aviation and wastewater - have gone down. The evaluation of two new infrastructure areas, navigable waterways and energy, have kept the grade point average low.

Grades ranged from a high of "C+" for solid waste to a low of "D-" for schools. Despite being at the extremes on the Report Card for grades, both solid waste and schools received better marks than the "C-" and the "F" issued to those categories, respectively, in 1998. Most states have effectively sought alternatives to dumping solid waste into landfills by encouraging recycling - up 50 percent since 1990 - and converting waste to energy. Approximately 17 percent of the nation's solid waste is now converted to energy.

While local governments have increased spending on school construction and maintenance, problems continue to linger as enrollment outpaces construction in many communities. Consequently, the cost to remedy the situation has risen from $112 billion in 1998 to $127 billion. With three-quarters of all school buildings failing to provide an effective environment for learning, due to either outdated facilities or overcrowding, the situation could worsen before things improve significantly.

Transit received a grade of "C-," down from a "C" three years ago, and airports received a "D," down from a "C-" in 1998. While funds have been made available through TEA-21 and AIR-21, appropriated to mass transit and aviation respectively, both systems are struggling to meet usage demands nationwide. Transit ridership has increased 15 percent since 1995, adding a strain despite unprecedented growth in transit systems and increased funding. Furthermore, existing public transportation systems, such as San Francisco's BART system and Washington's Metro system, are challenged by new commuter patterns that did not exist and were not anticipated when the systems were first designed and constructed.

Airports are already faced with gridlock on a seemingly daily basis. In the past ten years, air traffic has increased 37 percent, while capacity has increased only one percent. The aviation infrastructure, airports, air traffic control system and other components are not keeping up. Furthermore, local politics impede the discussion and implementation of solutions to meet the growing demand.

Wastewater declined from a "D+" in 1998 to a "D," while drinking water remained a "D." Wastewater and drinking water systems are both quintessential examples of aged systems that need to be updated. For example, some sewer systems are 100 years old. Aged drinking water systems are structurally obsolete. The shortfall of $11 billion for drinking water and $12 billion in wastewater only account for improvements to the current system and do not even take into consideration the demands of a growing population.

Along with drinking water, dams was the only other category to have received the same grade, "D," as it did in 1998. In the past two years alone there have been 61 reported dam failures and the number of "high-hazard potential dams" - those whose failure would cause loss of life - increased from 9,281 to 9,921 in 1998. Currently, there are more than 2,100 unsafe dams in the United States, which have deficiencies that leave them highly susceptible to failure.

Energy generation and transmission, a new addition to the 2001 Report Card, scored a "D+" for its growing inability to meet the population's demand for power. More than 10,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity need to be added each year until 2008 to keep pace with the 1.8 percent annual growth in demand. Since 1990, actual capacity has increased only about 7,000 MW per year, an annual shortfall of 30 percent nationwide.

Navigable waterways, the other newly evaluated category, posted a grade of "D+." Navigable waterways encompass the nation's ports, harbor channels, and inland, intracoastal and coastal waterways. Together, this network of waterways moves 2.3 billion tons of commercial goods. In the past 30 years, capital investment for public water resources has decreased 70 percent. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a $38 billion backlog of authorized projects, which would take 25 years to complete at current funding levels.

Three categories showed modest improvements. Roads went up from a "D-" to a "D+," and bridges rose from a "C-" to a "C." Both these categories have benefited from an increase in federal and local funding currently allocated to ease road congestion and decaying bridges. However, with 29 percent of bridges still ranked as structurally deficient or obsolete and nearly a third of major roads considered to be in poor or mediocre condition, engineers warn that Congress cannot afford to allow promised funding for transportation to lapse.

Efforts to reduce hazardous waste have improved that category's grade from a "D-" to a "D+," primarily because effective regulation and enforcement of current policies have largely halted the contamination of new sites. Yet this grade remains low because the number of sites could grow, creating a backlog in the system.

"As dismal as these grades seem, many of the downward trends can be reversed with increased funding and a renewed partnership between citizens, local, state and federal governments," says ASCE Executive Director James E. Davis, P.E. "As a nation, we have taken for granted that our lights will turn on, our roads and bridges won't crumble beneath us and that we'll have clean and safe water when we're thirsty. Without adequate resources, we cannot implement appropriate solutions."

"With a projected Federal budget surplus of $5.6 trillion dollars, our leaders in Congress have the funds needed to restore our ailing infrastructure," adds Bein. "Without these resources, we gamble America's prosperity on an infrastructure whose pipes, schools, and airports are literally at the bursting point."

The infrastructure areas for the Report Card were assessed by an advisory panel comprised of 11 eminent civil engineers representing the broad spectrum of civil engineering. Each category was evaluated on the basis of condition and performance, capacity versus need, and funding versus need.

Founded in 1852, ASCE represents more than 123,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. In 2002, the Society will celebrate its 150th anniversary. ASCE is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.

For more information, including examples of the condition of infrastructure locally and state statistics for many of the infrastructure areas cited in the 2001 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, please see their Website at www.asce.org/reportcard.


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