The recent release of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) annual report card found U.S. infrastructure lacking in several key areas. A blown water main shuts off water to an entire neighborhood. The road above the main has to be closed, causing major traffic delays during morning rush hour. These consequences of aging infrastructure play out every day in America, where 240,000 water mains break every year. The lesson is simple: no infrastructure system exists in a vacuum. As stewards of the nation’s infrastructure, civil engineers are responsible for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of our vital public works. The American Society of Civil Engineers believes that these engineers have a duty to periodically assess the state of the infrastructure, report on its condition and performance and advise on the steps necessary to improve it. In March, the ASCE released the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report card examined 16 infrastructure categories, awarding our nation’s overall infrastructure a D+. While America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+ from our last report card in 2009, this is certainly not cause for celebration. An overall grade of D+ is not acceptable if America expects to compete in the global economy. A Report Card For America This report card, which the ASCE has released every four years since 1998, is a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories. Using a simple A-to-F school report card format, the report card provides an in-depth assessment of current infrastructure conditions and needs, both assigning grades and making recommendations for how to raise the grades. The grades were given in the following subjects: • Dams, once again, earned a grade of D, in part because of the increase of the nation’s aging dams and high-hazard dams. In fact, the average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. • Drinking Water systems’ grade improved slightly to a D. This low grade is due to frequent water main breaks in pipes that are more than 100 years old and reaching the end of their life cycle. To fix these pipes and mains will require significant investment. • Hazardous Waste systems’ grade remained unchanged at a D. The undeniable success In the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste was diminished by a severe budgetary shortfall for cleanup of CERCLA Superfund sites and brownfields. More than 400,000 brownfields await cleanup and redevelopment. • Levees again earned a near failing grade of D-. The United States does not have a levee safety program. Public safety remains at risk, as roughly $100 billion is needed to repair the nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees that are increasingly protecting developed communities. • Solid Waste systems earned a B-, the highest grade in 2013. In 2010, Americans recycled 85 million tons of the 250 million tons of trash generated. This represents a 34 percent recycling rate, more than double the 14.5 percent in 1980. • Wastewater systems’ grade improved slightly to a D. Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems — namely to fix and expand pipes to address sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows and other pipe-related issues — are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20 years. • Aviation again earned a D grade. The number of commercial flights continued to rise, despite the effects of the recent recession, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. • Bridges improved to a grade of C+, given that the overall number of structurally deficient bridges continues to decrease. However, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are still rated as structurally deficient. The average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is 42 years. • Inland Waterways received a D- grade once again, as conditions remain poor and investment levels stagnant. The nation’s inland waterways and rivers carry the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year. There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the inland waterway system. • Ports received a C grade in its 2013 debut for assessment. More than 95 percent (by volume) of overseas trade produced or consumed by the United States moves through the nation’s ports. Despite the continued growth of the global economy, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections. • Rail saw the largest improvement, moving up to a C+ in 2013.America’s freight rail industry invested over about $20 billion each year from 2009 through 2012 to modernize its network. In 2012, Amtrak recorded its highest year of ridership, benefiting from federal investments in tracks, bridges, tunnels and increased capacity from both freight and passenger operations. • Roads saw a slight improvement with a grade of D. America’s major urban highways face a 42 percent congestion rate. That congestion annually costs the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel. However, targeted efforts to improve conditions have resulted in a significant reduction in highway fatalities since 2009. • Transit’s grade remained at a D. Transit agencies struggled to balance increasing ridership with declining funding, as 45 percent of American households lack any access to transit. Although access to and investment in transit has increased, deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010. • Public Parks and Recreation’s grade remained unchanged at a C-. The popularity of parks and outdoor recreation areas in the United States continues to grow. While these activities contribute $646 billion to the nation’s economy and support 6.1 million jobs, states and localities continue to struggle with an estimated $18.5 billion in unmet budgetary needs, according to 2011 numbers. • Schools received a D again this year. Almost half of America’s public school buildings were built to educate the baby boomers — a generation that is now retiring from the workforce. Experts estimate the investment needed to modernize and maintain the nation’s school facilities is $270 billion or more. • Energy’s grade remained the same at a D+. The United States relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution system, some of which originated in the 1880s. While demand for electricity has remained level, the availability of energy in the form of electricity, natural gas and oil will become a greater challenge after 2020 as the population increases. Over the next five years, American plans to implement 17,000 miles of additional high-voltage transmission lines along with significant oil and gas pipelines, but permitting issues, among other things, threaten the completion of these projects. Where Do We Go From Here? The link between a nation’s infrastructure and its economic success is undeniable. ASCE recently conducted a series of economic studies, titled Failure to Act, and found that if America continues down its current path on infrastructure investment, the nation will lose $3.1 trillion in GDP, $1.1 trillion in trade value and 3.5 million jobs — all by 2020. American businesses must be positioned to compete in the ever-emerging global economy, and currently, we are not keeping pace. Deteriorating and aging infrastructure that causes frequent blackouts, congested highways, and water main breaks is not just an inconvenience: it also hurts our wallets. Poor infrastructure damages our families, our businesses and our entire country. Industry relies on airports, roads, energy and waterways to do business. If America is to attract international businesses, then the nation must have a reliable infrastructure system. Without it, companies will take their jobs elsewhere. Get Involved If you are interested in learning more and becoming an advocate for our nation’s infrastructure, please visit www.infrastructurereportcard.org. You can also download the Report Card app from the iTunes or Google Play stores. The app offers you the opportunity to stay up-to-date on the ongoing infrastructure debate and the ability to share content across social media, by sharing our infrastructure videos on your Facebook page or liking our Save America’s Infrastructure page.
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