Grades across nine categories span from a “B” for aviation to a “D+” for roads

PHOENIX, AZ — The Arizona Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) today released the 2020 Report Card for Arizona’s Infrastructure. Arizona civil engineers gave nine categories of infrastructure an overall grade of a ‘C,’ meaning the state’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition. Civil engineers graded aviation (B), bridges (B+), dams (C-), drinking water (C-), levees (C-), rail (C), roads (D+), transit (C) and wastewater (C-).

The report highlights some positive and innovative infrastructure successes. Aviation infrastructure received the highest grade of a ‘B,’ citing that Arizona’s three largest airports have all received recent major investments, including a 20-year, $38 billion Comprehensive Asset Management Plan at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PSHIA). With the state experiencing a 37% population growth between 2000-2017 (compared to 15% nationally during that span), Arizona’s aviation network is a vital resource for facilitating economic growth by means of attracting tourists and moving freight throughout the state. Its airports contribute to 7.6% of the state’s gross domestic product and 395,000 jobs.

“Businesses and people continue to flock to Arizona to take advantage of our beautiful weather, sprawling landscape and culture,” said Senator Juan Mendez. “While this growth is exciting, we must ensure our infrastructure is reliable and efficient to accommodate 21st century challenges.

Arizona’s bridges (B+) also received high marks and are currently equipped to handle increasing freight and commuters throughout the region. Only 1.6% of its 8,320 bridges were classified as in poor condition in 2019, far fewer than the national average of 7.5%. The long-term viability of bridges is being helped by programs such as the Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT’s) Resilience Program, which incorporates extreme weather and climate adaptation into the design engineering process. However, 46% of these structures were built in the 1970s and are nearing the end of their 50-year design life and will need rehabilitation despite having limited resources.

“Economic opportunities are arriving at our doorstep and it’s up to civil engineers to ensure those opportunities stay here with structures businesses can count on,” said Jose Aguilar, P.E., ASCE Arizona Section Vice President. “We need to find additional revenue sources if we want to keep up with future demands.”

Resilience was a theme recurrent throughout the report. Drinking water (C-) utilities have addressed resilience needs by focusing on drinking water supplies such as state rivers, natural recharge into groundwater aquifers and treated wastewater. Residents have also reduced their water consumption— each using an average of 52,925 gallons per year, compared to the average American consumption of 64,240 gallons.

Roads received the lowest grade in the report, earning a ‘D+.’ Vehicle travel on Arizona’s highways increased by 32% from 2000-2017, compared to the national increase of 17% in that span. Arizona’s 25-year statewide federal, state and local investment needs total $98.3 billion, with an estimated investment gap of $30 billion. This in large part is due to a state motor fuels tax of 18 cents per gallon, which has not increased since 1991—sitting at the 5th lowest in the country. Arizona’s road network has relied on an average of $775 million in funds from the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act since its inception in 2015, but the program is set to expire on September 30th. The limited resources coming from the state’s motor fuels tax – the primary source of funding for surface transportation projects in Arizona – also casts doubt on the sustainability of current bridge conditions.

Unfortunately, publicly available data and funding is lacking on the state’s dams and levees, which is a consistent issue across the country. This lack of data endangers new communities expanding near these structures, as residents have no knowledge of their condition. The report finds that of the 159 levee systems, which span 387 miles in Arizona and protect 345,000 Arizona residents and close to $50 billion in property, only 8% are inventoried in the National Levee Database and have been screened for condition analysis. Additionally, Arizona’s dam safety budget is less than $1 million annually, which is primarily available to conduct inspections. Growing communities are at unknowingly at risk without proper assessments of the condition of the structures that protect them from flooding, or a budget suitable to repair structures when they fail. On a high note, Emergency Action Plans have been prepared for 95% of the state-regulated dams that have been classified as high-hazard dams, which is well above the national average of roughly 80%.  Currently, nearly 1-in-5 high hazard dams across the country lack an emergency action plan.

The report also includes recommendations to raise the grades, such as:

  • Assert greater economic independence from federal funding sources through implementing measures such as a vehicles miles traveled charge or user fee for electric cars.
  • Jurisdictions who own and maintain levees must work together with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (DWR), FEMA and USACE to complete the National Levee Database for both federal and non-federal levees. An important step is to fully fund The National Levee Safety Program.
  • Develop a comprehensive, statewide asset database and an examination rubric to establish infrastructure priorities and improve coordination of asset management across all agencies.

The Report Card was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in their state. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Arizona’s infrastructure network. ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of ‘D+’ in 2017.

A full copy of the Report Card for Arizona’s Infrastructure is available at   https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/state-item/arizona/.

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