US INFRASTRUCTURE REPORT

October 2, 2016


Information for this post came from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Every family, every community and every business needs infrastructure to thrive. Infrastructure encompasses your local water main and the Hoover Dam; the power lines connected to your house and the electrical grid spanning the U.S.; and the street in front of your home and the national highway system.

Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure Report Card.  Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card provides a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions and needs, both assigning grades and making recommendations for how to raise the grades. An Advisory Council of ASCE members assigns the grades according to the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.  Now the 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.

Let’s take a quick look at the grades for each of the categories ASCE has provided.  You will not be impressed.  Our U.S. Congress has done what they always do—put their reelection first and the country dead last.

overall-report-card

The table below provides the estimated cumulative investment needs by infrastructure category based on current trends extended to the year 2020 (dollars in $2010 billions). Categories that are not shaded rely on data from ASCE’s Failure to Act series.

funding-table

The grades in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure are a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions across America. It is important to note that these infrastructure conditions have impacts on our economy as well.

In 2011, ASCE commissioned a series of economic reports called Failure to Act to provide an objective analysis of the economic implications for the United States of current investment trends in key infrastructure sectors. These first-of-a-kind reports were prepared for ASCE by the Economic Development Research Group of Boston to answer this central question:

What is the value to America’s economy in the long term if we invest in our infrastructure today?

The results of the Failure to Act series focus on:

Together, these reports cover 9 of the 16 categories addressed by the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.

Analyzing current investment trends for each infrastructure sector, the report conveys the economic impacts in terms of change in GDP, household income, employment, and exports in the years 2020 and 2040. In short, investing in infrastructure is an engine for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true – without investing, infrastructure can become a drag on the economy.

I would like to concentrate on just two of the categories ASCE has given us, Water and Environment and Transportation.  Obviously, every citizen of this country uses these government-provided services every day.  Our lives are directly affected by the viability of these two categories.

WATER AND ENVIRONMENT:

Dams: Dams again earned a grade of D. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing population and greater development below dams, the overall number of high-hazard dams continues to increase, to nearly 14,000 in 2012. The number of deficient dams is currently more than 4,000. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair these aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams.

Drinking Water: The grade for drinking water improved slightly to a D. At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.

Hazardous Waste: There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500 million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites await cleanup and redevelopment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site. The grade for hazardous waste remained unchanged at a D.

Levees: Levees again earned a near failing grade of D- in 2013. The nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Many of these levees were originally used to protect farmland, and now are increasingly protecting developed communities. The reliability of these levees is unknown in many cases, and the country has yet to establish a National Levee Safety Program. Public safety remains at risk from these aging structures, and the cost to repair or rehabilitate these levees is roughly estimated to be $100 billion by the National Committee on Levee Safety. However, the return on investment is clear – as levees helped in the prevention of more than $141 billion in flood damages in 2011.

Solid Waste: In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. Of that, 85 million tons were recycled or composted. This represents a 34% recycling rate, more than double the 14.5% in 1980. Per capita generation rates of waste have been steady over the past 20 years and have even begun to show signs of decline in the past several years. The grade for solid waste improved in 2013, and it earned the highest grade of B-.

Wastewater: The grade for wastewater improved slightly to a D. Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20 years. Pipes represent the largest capital need, comprising three quarters of total needs. Fixing and expanding the pipes will address sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, and other pipe-related issues. In recent years, capital needs for the treatment plants comprise about 15%-20% of total needs, but will likely increase due to new regulatory requirements. Stormwater needs, while growing, are still small compared with sanitary pipes and treatment plants. Since 2007, the federal government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion in new pipes, plants, and equipment to eliminate combined sewer overflows.

TRANSPORTATION:

Aviation: Despite the effects of the recent recession, commercial flights were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. If current federal funding levels are maintained, the FAA anticipates that the cost of congestion and delays to the economy will rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion by 2040. Aviation again earned a D.

Bridges: Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States. However, with the overall number of structurally deficient bridges continuing to trend downward, the grade improved to C+.

Inland Waterways: Our nation’s inland waterways and rivers are the hidden backbone of our freight network – they carry the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year. In many cases, the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s, and more than half of the locks are over 50 years old. Barges are stopped for hours each day with unscheduled delays, preventing goods from getting to market and driving up costs. There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the system. Projects to repair and replace aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete, exacerbating the problem further. Inland waterways received a D- grade once again as conditions remain poor and investment levels remain stagnant.

Ports: This new category for 2013 debuted with a grade of C. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 95% (by volume) of overseas trade produced or consumed by the United States moves through our ports. To sustain and serve a growing economy and compete internationally, our nation’s ports need to be maintained, modernized, and expanded. While port authorities and their private sector partners have planned over $46 billion in capital improvements from now until 2016, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.

Rail: Railroads are experiencing a competitive resurgence as both an energy-efficient freight transportation option and a viable city-to-city passenger service. In 2012, Amtrak recorded its highest year of ridership with 31.2 million passengers, almost doubling ridership since 2000, with growth anticipated to continue. Both freight and passenger rail have been investing heavily in their tracks, bridges, and tunnels as well as adding new capacity for freight and passengers. In 2010 alone, freight railroads renewed the rails on more than 3,100 miles of railroad track, equivalent to going coast to coast. Since 2009, capital investment from both freight and passenger railroads has exceeded $75 billion, actually increasing investment during the recession when materials prices were lower and trains ran less frequently. With high ridership and greater investment in the system, the grade for rail saw the largest improvement, moving up to a C+ in 2013.

Roads: Targeted efforts to improve conditions and significant reductions in highway fatalities resulted in a slight improvement in the roads grade to a D this year. However, forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. While the conditions have improved in the near term, and federal, state, and local capital investments increased to $91 billion annually, that level of investment is insufficient and still projected to result in a decline in conditions and performance in the long term. Currently, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis to significantly improve conditions and performance.

Transit: The grade for transit remained at a D as transit agencies struggled to balance increasing ridership with declining funding. America’s public transit infrastructure plays a vital role in our economy, connecting millions of people with jobs, medical facilities, schools, shopping, and recreation, and it is critical to the one-third of Americans who do not drive cars. Unlike many U.S. infrastructure systems, the transit system is not comprehensive, as 45% of American households lack any access to transit, and millions more have inadequate service levels. Americans who do have access have increased their ridership 9.1% in the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue. Although investment in transit has also increased, deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010, as many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases.

CONCLUSION:

I know my readers think I’m beating up on state and federal governments, but give me a break.  Do you ever wonder what these elected officials really do?  I want to show you the top ten (10) boondoggles the Fed has deemed necessary.  Here we go.

  • THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE: A notorious 2005 earmark authorized $452 million to build two bridges in Alaska—including one that became known as the so-called Bridge to Nowhere, which would have connected the city of Ketchikan to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people.
  • The Woodstock Museum: In 2007, Congress authorized a $1 million earmark to build a museum dedicated to the 1969 Woodstock concert.
  • Duplication Nation– Every year the federal government wastes at least $200 billion in duplicative federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives.
  • The Adult Baby– We were curious to learn, in 2011, of a subculture of adults who dress, eat and otherwise behave as babies. We were further shocked to discover that some, including a man named Stanley Thornton—who was featured in a television program—had funded his infantile lifestyle by relying on disability payments from the Social Security Administration.
  • Unemployment Payouts to Millionaires–It’s not just adult babies gaming the system. In 2011, we discovered that federal unemployment benefits are being sent to the wealthy—who bilk the system out of at least $30 million each year.
  • Shrimp on a Treadmill– In 2007, the National Science Foundation committed more than $500,000 to study the mobility of shrimp by conducting experiments that involved placing the crustaceans on treadmills. (You have to love this one!!!!!!!!)
  • The RoboSquirrelSpeaking of wasteful research, in 2012, we highlighted a $325,000 study on the interaction between rattlesnakes and squirrels that made use of a robotic squirrel. (Don’t even ask.)
  • The Pentagon’s “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” symposium–In 2012, we issued a report titled

“Department of Everything” that showed how the Department of Defense could make cuts in “non-defense” spending – spending in DOD that has nothing to do with our national defense, which we’ve estimated totals almost $68 billion. In the report, we highlighted surprising spending on beef jerky and a smartphone add to gauge caffeine intake. Our eyebrows were also raised by a strategy planning workshop for which nearly $100,000 was allocated. One of the sessions at the symposium explored the relationship between Jesus and Klingons, the famous alien species in the Star Trek series.

  • The Turtle TunnelIn 2009, a “stimulus” project for a $3.4 million wildlife “eco-passage” was greenlighted in Florida to help turtles and other wildlife cross beneath a busy road. (Don’t get me wrong—I like turtles but $3.4 million.)
  • Handouts for Pro Athletes and Team OwnersIn 2013 we sponsored a bill to end the nonprofit tax exemption for for-profit sports leagues.

Meanwhile, our roads, bridges, dams, water, etc etc seems to continue to suffer.  You get the picture.

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