Civil engineers give America’s infrastructure a near-failing grade

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2017 U.S. infrastructure report on Thursday, showing that the country’s bridges, roads, transit systems and other vital structural framework are at near failing levels.

ASCE based their overall grade on the assessment of 28 leading American civil engineers in 16 individual categories, including water, aviation and energy. Overall, the report concluded U.S. public structures are in “poor to fair condition and mostly below standard”, with “inland waterways” and “transit” receiving the lowest grades.

Since 1998, the professional engineering group has rated the overall state of America’s infrastructure in the “D” range on account of “delayed maintenance” and “under investment”, leaving many structures not up to code and in need of repair.

Aging infrastructure has had a significant negative effect on Americans’ quality of life, especially in large metropolitan areas. According to former ASCE president, Greg DiLoreto, a lack of investment in the common good has left roads and airports congested, drinking water systems woefully inefficient — leaking trillions of gallons every year — and bridges and public transportation systems with backlogged maintenance costs totaling over $100 billion.

Overall, ASCE estimates that a combined $4.59 trillion in public and private investment by 2025, approximately 3.5 percent of GDP, is needed to upgrade America’s infrastructure system to “good” condition, where it could be then deemed “safe and reliable, with minimal capacity issues”.

“Infrastructure owners and operators must charge, and Americans must be willing to pay, rates and fees that reflect the true cost of using, maintaining, and improving infrastructure,” the report read.

While optimists may point to President Trump’ $1 trillion infrastructure plan as a magic bullet, experts say that amount of funding is not enough to solve the entire problem. Instead of directly releasing funds for mandated projects, the former New York businessman’s proposal would incentivize private investment by giving an 82 percent tax credit to financiers.

Democratic Party leaders and public infrastructure experts, however, argue that significant public financing is needed to build major infrastructure outside of large cities where private investors would not likely see a return on their investment.

While current ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei suggests a 25 cent increase in the federal gasoline tax to pay for public initiatives, upgrades to particular structural sectors will have to be financed at the state and local level.  For example, 86 percent of more than 15,000 dams ASCE classifies as “high hazard” are owned or regulated by state and local governments.

With Republicans in control of the entire federal government and a majority of state legislatures and governorships now, the political will necessary to finance a total renovation and expansion of America’s structural capacity won’t be realized for another decade.

 

[CNBC] [NPR] [Washington Post]