National

Trillions of Dollars Needed to Mend Nation’s Rapidly Declining Infrastructure

Engineers Give America a C- Grade for First Time in 20 Years

America’s roads, interstates, water systems and other key infrastructure systems are deteriorating and declining due to factors such as aging, climate change and passivity from the federal government.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, giving the nation an overall C- grade, up from a D+ in 2017.

The study, conducted every four years, evaluates17 categories of infrastructure, with grades ranging from a B for rail to a D- for transit.

Eleven of the 17 categories in the report card received a grade in the D range including aviation, dams, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks, roads, schools, stormwater, transit and sewage treatment.

“This not a report card anyone would be proud to take home,” said ASCE Executive Director Thomas Smith. “We have not made significant enough investments to maintain infrastructure that in some cases was built more than 50 years ago. As this study shows, we risk significant economic losses, higher costs to consumers, businesses and manufacturers – and our quality of life – if we don’t act urgently. When we fail to invest in infrastructure, we pay the price.”

The ASCE says over the past four years, the U.S. made some incremental gains due to increased investment in aviation, drinking water, energy, inland waterways, and ports, but big obstacles remain like public transit, which received the lowest grade in the report of a D-.

Some 45 percent of Americans lack access to rapid transit and the existing infrastructure is aging, says the group.

In 2016, the ASCE rated Washington, D.C. an overall C- receiving poor grades in rapid transit, roads and levees.

On the upside, the District was rated a B-, or “good,” for its bridges — on par with its neighboring state Maryland.

In 2020, the ASCE gave Maryland a grade of C with overall condition of roads and bridges being among the best in the nation, but aging systems and dense population posing challenges.

“Maryland’s surface transportation network, particularly bridges, has seen improvements since the 2011 report card,” said the ASCE. “Bridges received the highest grade of B among the 12 infrastructure categories included in the report.”

In 2015, the ASCE gave Virginia an infrastructure grade of C- up from D+ in 2009. The group says while Virginia has seen a slight improvement the state is barely keeping pace with maintaining aging infrastructure.

The report found that Virginia’s water systems require nearly a $6.1 billion investment over the next 20 years as many of the systems are approaching 70 years old. The wastewater systems require an even larger investment of $6.8 billion.

Additionally, more than 60 percent of the state’s school facilities are older than 40 years old and estimated renovation costs have more than doubled in recent years, exceeding $18 billion.

There’s also the issue of climate change and its impact on the country’s infrastructure. There were 22 weather and climate disasters in the U.S. last year that cost at least $1 billion, the most in history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Experts say climate change affects infrastructure which in turn affects the economy.

The ASCE said if the U.S. does not pay its overdue infrastructure bill by 2039 the economy will lose $10 trillion in growth and exports will decline by $2.4 trillion.

They also estimate more than three million jobs will be lost and each American household will bear $3,300 in hidden costs per year.

“America’s infrastructure bill is overdue, and we have been ignoring it for years,” said ASCE President Jean-Louis Briaud. “The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates the funding challenge because state and local governments have had to prioritize public health over everything else for the past year.”

The long-term infrastructure investment gap continues to grow, rising to $2.59 trillion in the latest study, according to the ASCE.

The group has called on congress and the Biden administration to take “big and bold action” on infrastructure quickly, while applauding the president’s choice for Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“Infrastructure is an issue that everyone agrees needs action and doing so will help the U.S. now and in the future,” said Emily Feenstra, ASCE’s managing director of government relations and infrastructure initiatives. “Delaying only increases the costs.”

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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