Nation’s pipes, roads in critical condition
The results of the 2005 Reston, Va.-based American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) national infrastructure report card are grim. With an overall grade of D-, down from a D in the first 2001 report card, America’s infrastructure is failing. The price tag to bring the grade up — $1.6 trillion over five years — has remained constant. ASCE developed the report based on existing data reports on infrastructure and actions taken by lawmakers relative to each of 15 categories.
The worst grades come from drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, each of which received a D-.Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) President and Akron, Ohio, Mayor Donald Plusquellic, says that while several other areas were rated D (plus or minus) — including dams, energy, navigable waterways, aviation, roads, transit and schools — safe drinking water and wastewater are areas that have an immediate effect on public health.
“You have a situation where the federal government is still sending out unfunded mandates by way of letters from the EPA [Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] demanding these things get cleaned up, but there’s no way to support it,” Plusquellic says. A national funding pool, he says, would help pay for the infrastructure costs that keep getting “shoved down on local government.”
“We’re still using wastewater systems that may have been built in the 19th century. I’m not sure how much farther we can go before it becomes a health hazard,” says Michael Walton, a University of Texas at Austin civil engineering professor and chair of the 2005 ASCE report card committee.
With $11 billion needed this year to replace aging facilities and meet safe drinking water standards, the amount allocated in the 2005 federal budget — $850 million — is less than 8 percent of the annual national requirement. The funding is appropriated annually by Congress through the Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund program, enacted in 1987.
In spite of the high annual cost to repair the nation’s ailing infrastructure, Walton says about two-thirds of the money is already appropriated in Congress in pending bills. Combined with the remaining one-third needed, he says repairing and rebuilding the nation’s foundation would generate 5 million new jobs over the next five years.
ASCE and USCM are pushing for Congress to create a national commission to develop a plan of attack, Walton says. “The highway program, for example, has a major capital improvement component associated with it, and we need that in other categories,” he says.
Since the first ASCE report card in 2001, the grading structure has filtered down to several local and state governments. St. Louis, Texas, San Diego, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Calif., New Hampshire and Georgia all have graded their infrastructures.
Stu Moring, director of public works for Roswell, Ga., who served as the committee chair for the 2003 ASCE Georgia report card released in January 2004, says the process was done with a $1,500 ASCE state public affairs grant and 10 to 12 volunteers, and took approximately eight months to complete. “Doing this report card is a goal-setting mechanism,” he says. “For local government, they are not the high-visibility types of things. People don’t typically run election campaigns on the basis of maintenance, open space, traffic or parks.”
Georgia’s overall grade was a gentleman’s C. The local ASCE estimated that bringing the infrastructure to an acceptable level would cost the state $120 billion over the next 30 years.
“We need to go into another phase of our public relations effort and connect with local associations,” Moring says, “sharing the information with them so the ultimate decision makers can factor it into their financial planning.”