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Engineers Give US Infrastructure a D+

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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With infrastructure investment on the docket for discussion in Washington, the American Society of Civil Engineers has released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, and the U.S. is passing—but only barely.

The ASCE, which issues the report every four years, gave the United States a D+ for the condition and performance of its infrastructure, the same grade it was awarded in 2013. But perhaps surprisingly, bridges—a highly visible type of infrastructure often in the news for deficiency—scored better than many other categories, with a C+.

Rusting bridge
© iStock.com / gladassfanny

Americans make 188 million trips across structurally deficient bridges each day on average, ASCE says.

The U.S. has made progress in the bridge category, cutting the percentage of its bridges deemed to be deficient by more than 3 percent in the past decade. Still, 9.1 percent of the country’s bridges are structurally deficient, the report says, and nearly four in ten are at least 50 years old. Americans make 188 million trips across structurally deficient bridges each day on average, ASCE says.

Nearly 40 percent of the country’s bridges were built at least 50 years ago, ASCE reports, noting that most bridges built in the United States at that time were made for a useful life of about 50 years.

Rhode Island has the greatest percentage of structurally deficient bridges, the report notes, with nearly 25 percent of its bridges fitting the category. Nevada has the smallest percentage, with just 1.6 percent of its bridges counting.

The overall C+ grade for bridges is the same the group gave in 2013.

Addressing Bridge Problems

In order to address the problem of deficiency in bridges, ASCE recommends a number of moves. Increased funding from all levels of government tops the list. The group is also in favor of increasing the federal gas tax to help buoy the federal Highway Trust Fund, and encourages governments to look at alternative forms of funding, such as mileage-based user fees, as well.

Structurally deficient bridges
Charts: ASCE

A bout 9 percent of the country’s bridges are structurally deficient, the report says, and nearly four in ten are at least 50 years old.

Additionally, ASCE says bridge owners should prioritize maintenance and rehabilitation, and look at costs across the bridge’s entire lifetime when making spending decisions.

Other Categories

U.S. roads got a D grade from the report, which notes that Americans spent 6.9 billion hours delayed in traffic in 2014, the most recent figure available. In the same year, 20 percent of U.S. roads were in poor condition in terms of pavement, the report says.

Rail is the high point of the report, garnering a B grade. Freight railroads fared better than passenger rail, though. The latter, ASCE says, “faces the dual problems of aging infrastructure and insufficient funding.” Among other recommendations, the group advises establishing a federal rail trust fund to help bankroll rail improvements.

Spending on highway infrastructure

ASCE is in favor of increasing the federal gas tax to help buoy the federal Highway Trust Fund, and encourages governments to look at alternative forms of funding, such as mileage-based user fees, as well.

Drinking water received a D as well, noting that while America’s drinking water remains largely of high quality, contaminants continue to emerge, due in part to legacy issues. The report quotes the American Water Works Association in estimating that $1 trillion will be needed to maintain and expand the county’s drinking water systems over the next 25 years.

Wastewater infrastructure got a D+, up slightly from 2013’s D grade and 2009’s D-. Demand on wastewater systems will grow by about 23 percent in the next 15 years, the group says, and 532 new systems will need to be constructed in that time to keep up with demand.

The full report, which also addresses aviation, dams, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks, schools and solid waste, is available here.

   

Tagged categories: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); Bridges; Engineers; Infrastructure; North America; potable water; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Wastewater Plants

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