Cleveland — The Cleveland Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2019 Report Card for Northeast Ohio’s Infrastructure, grading seven categories of the region’s infrastructure, resulting in an overall grade point average of “D+.” Northeast Ohio’s (NEO) infrastructure includes Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties, which account for slightly more than 2 million people, or approximately 18 percent of the State of Ohio population.
The report assigned the following grades: bridges (C-), dams (D+), drinking water (C-), energy (D), roads (D+), schools (D) and wastewater (D+). “D+” is the same overall grade the nation received in ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card.
“A D+ grade is nothing of which we should be proud,” said Gina Beim, Chair, Northeast Ohio Infrastructure Report Card Committee. “However, shining the light on the challenges of the region’s infrastructure is the first step in mobilizing us to improve it. A well-maintained infrastructure, poised to serve us into the future, is vital for Northeast Ohio’s economic development. It is critical that we prepare now by investing in our infrastructure in all communities in the region so that all greater Cleveland residents can thrive.”
Lake Erie, a major source of the region’s drinking water, also receives a significant portion of the region’s treated wastewater provides residents with recreation opportunities and influences the region’s climate. Drinking water (“C-”) received one of the highest grades, as quality in the region is high, which is keeping par with standards across the United States. As the largest drinking water utility in the region, the Cleveland Water Department (CWD) has spent more than $1.65 billion on infrastructure updates over the last 30 years, including improvements to major treatment facilities and primary pump stations.
Population decline is also impacting the region’s water infrastructure, as a decline in consumption is contributing to less revenue available to reinvest in the water system. The region’s population has not increased in over a decade. This impact means that there are fewer rate payers to support an aging infrastructure network.
Much of the region’s wastewater infrastructure is aging, and approximately 25 percent of the sewer pipes in NEO are over 80 years old. There are over 5,000 miles of underground pipes, connecting homes and businesses to 45 publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants. On a dry day, capacity in the system is double the average daily volume generated. In Cuyahoga County, the report estimates that by 2040, the population will decrease by 13 percent, while surrounding counties will increase by seven percent. This outward migration may cause additional stress on existing rural and urban wastewater infrastructure. Additionally, many of Northeast Ohio’s septic systems require attention and approximately 39 percent of these septic systems are considered failing.
“Our infrastructure is a vital contributor to our economy and quality of life, said Grace Gallucci, Executive Director, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA). “NOACA recognizes the importance of infrastructure and understands that it needs significant investment in order to keep Northeast Ohio globally competitive.”
The report card finds that much of the region’s infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and is mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. Energy and schools both earned the lowest grades in the Report Card, each taking home a “D.” One third of energy consumed in the region is generated outside the region, and the region’s aging distribution networks built in times of population expansion prior the 1960s require continuous care and improvement.
Estimates by the Cleveland Section of ASCE suggest that about half of the schools in the region have not undergone significant renovations over the past 40 years, and only about 60 percent of school districts have buildings that fully meet current state and/or federal standards. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission funding spiked in 2008 from a tobacco settlement, which resulted in four years of over $800 million available per year to K-12 schools. However, over the past five years, construction disbursements have dropped to an average of approximately $275 million per year. The report also finds the resiliency of school buildings concerning. 91 percent of school buildings are designated to serve as emergency shelters, but most do not have backup power systems and are not constructed to withstand natural disasters common to Ohio.
Notably, the report finds that road safety is of concern and requires attention. NEO roads (“D+”) are seeing an uptick in traffic accidents. In 2017, there were 49,973 traffic accidents in the five-county region, including 166 fatalities. Additionally, the region faces a funding shortfall issue, particularly to address its future needs. Infrastructure challenges continue to limit the number of bridges which can be repaired or replaced as well as road maintenance.
The Report Card also offers solutions to address the region’s infrastructure needs and raise NEO’s grade:
- Increase the state gas and diesel taxes to pay for necessary road and bridge projects and ensure local governments receive adequate disbursements to maintain local surface transportation infrastructure. Ohio’s fuel taxes have not been increased since 2005.
- Make NEO more economically competitive by increasing investment in infrastructure across all sectors. Robust, sustained investment in our water and wastewater systems, energy grid, dams, roadways and more could slow the population decline.
- Invest in school facilities and train tomorrow’s workforce. Sufficient funding is required to repair and replace school facilities as the region prepares for its future.
- Raise awareness of the true cost of wastewater treatment. Utilize education programs to demonstrate wastewater infrastructure’s impact on Clean Water with implementation of programs to provide rate payers sense of ownership over wastewater infrastructure.
The Report Card for Northeast Ohio’s Infrastructure was created as a public service to citizens and policymakers to inform them of the infrastructure needs in the region. Civil engineers used their expertise and school report card letter grades to condense complicated data into an easy-to-understand analysis of Northeast Ohio’s infrastructure network.
ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card (https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org), which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of “D+” in 2017.
A full copy of the 2019 Report Card for Northeast Ohio’s Infrastructure is available at www.InfrastructureReportCard.org/NortheastOhio.