Infrastructure Continues To Receive Poor Marks

When a child receives a near-failing grade on a report card, it tends to make most of us sit up and take notice. Yet, poor grades seem to have produced little reaction' or results'when it comes to our national infrastructure.

In 2001, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) assigned a cumulative grade of D+ for the condition of the country's roads, bridges, drinking water systems and other public works. Rather than spark improvements, the 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure shows the overall grade has dropped to a D, with some areas actually sliding toward failing grades.

Despite minor improvements in aviation and schools, overall conditions remain the same for bridges, dams and solid waste, and have worsened for roads, drinking water, transit, wastewater, hazardous waste and navigable waterways. Following are some of the most relevant findings:

  • Aviation improved from a D to a D+. Yet, air travel growth is projected at 4.3% annually through 2015. This represents significant hurdles for airports struggling to maintain and/or grow their facilities to keep up with demand.
  • Although the grade for schools rose from a D-to a D, improvements have barely scratched the surface. A 1999 Federal assessment showed $127 billion was needed to bring facilities to good condition; other sources state the need at as high as $268 billion.
  • Bridges held onto a C grade, thanks to a 1.4% overall decrease in the percentage of bridges rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Yet, one in three urban bridges still fall under this classification. Estimates show it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies.
  • Transit declined from a C-to a D+. Despite a 21% rise in transit use from 1993 to 2002, many transit properties have been forced to borrow funds to maintain operations, even as they significantly raise fares and cut back services.
  • In transportation, roads worsened from a D+ to a D rating. The ASCE report indicates that U.S. motorists spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $63 billion to the economy. Poor road conditions also cost $54 billion a year in repairs and operating costs. This does not take into account the emotional and economic costs stemming from loss of life due to poorly maintained roadways.

    "Given the projected growth in the U.S. economy and population, vehicle miles traveled and number of licensed drivers on the nation's transportation network in the future, a failing grade is likely on the next report card unless action is taken soon to address this growing problem," predicts Pete Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

    Addressing such problems will require a long-term investment in not just repair, but growth in infrastructure capacity. The ASCE estimates an investment need of $1.6 trillion over a five-year period from all levels of government and the private sector.

    To find out how individual states fared in the ASCE study, go to www.asce.org/reportcard. To contact your state and federal lawmakers to express your views on the report, visit www.congress.org.

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