On March 9, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, giving the nation’s roads, bridges, airports, rail and transit, ports, water systems, dams, energy systems, and other sectors a cumulative D+ grade.
Since 1998, the ASCE has periodically assessed the condition of major categories of infrastructure and reported its conclusions in an Infrastructure Report Card, assigning grades ranging from A to F (see Table 1). The last Report Card, released in 2013, also gave the nation’s infrastructure a D+ grade; the highest grade ever given in any individual sector is a B.
Comparing 2017 with 2013, grades in three categories (Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit) declined; grades in seven categories (Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater) improved slightly; and grades in six categories (Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads) were unchanged.
In addition to examining current infrastructure conditions and needs and assigning grades, the Report Card makes recommendations to raise those grades.
“Quite a few of ASCE’s past recommendations have come to fruition, such as creating a National Dam Rehabilitation Program and state gas tax increases to raise investment in surface transportation,” wrote Norma Jean Mattei, Ph.D., P.E., 2017 president, ASCE, in a preface to the 2017 Report Card. “Yet, the overarching solutions remain the same because the underlying challenges have yet to be effectively addressed. That’s why, in 2017, we’re leading with investment. Without real funding, every other solution can be implemented but the $2 trillion question will still be looming. In infrastructure, you get what you pay for and for decades we haven’t been paying nearly enough. It shows in the grades.”
Executives of some infrastructure promotion groups also commented on the Report Card. “As a nation of communities, we must commit to investing in critical infrastructure that is 40, 50, and 60 years old — and some of it much older than that,” said Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. “We must have an honest conversation about the need to make bigger and smarter investments than we have in the recent past.”
“The grades in the ASCE Report Card provide yet another example of what occurs when a nation underinvests in the critical infrastructure systems that support economic development and quality of life,” said American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director Bud Wright. “The FAST Act, signed into law in 2015, provided a modest increase in federal investment over five years, but it did not solve the long-term funding issues that threaten the future of America’s highway, transit, and passenger rail programs.”
The ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card is prepared by the association’s Committee on America’s Infrastructure, comprising 28 civil engineers from across the country. According to ASCE, the committee assesses all relevant data and reports, consults with technical and industry experts, and assigns grades using the following criteria for each category: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.
The committee used the following grading scale:
A: Exceptional; fit for the future — The infrastructure in the system or network is generally in excellent condition, typically new or recently rehabilitated, and meets capacity needs for the future. A few elements show signs of general deterioration that require attention. Facilities meet modern standards for functionality and are resilient to withstand most disasters and severe weather events.
B: Good; adequate for now — The infrastructure in the system or network is in good to excellent condition; some elements show signs of general deterioration that require attention. A few elements exhibit significant deficiencies. Safe and reliable, with minimal capacity issues and minimal risk.
C: Mediocre; requires attention — The infrastructure in the system or network is in fair to good condition; it shows general signs of deterioration and requires attention. Some elements exhibit significant deficiencies in conditions and functionality, with increasing vulnerability to risk.
D: Poor; at risk — The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.
F: Failing/critical; unfit for purpose — The infrastructure in the system is in unacceptable condition with widespread advanced signs of deterioration. Many of the components of the system exhibit signs of imminent failure.
View and download the complete report, including state-by-state reviews, at www.infrastructurereportcard.org.
Information provided by the American Society of Civil Engineers (www.asce.org).