ASCE 2021 Report Card Underscores Essential Nature of Infrastructure Construction

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By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE

Although the American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest national report card upgrades U.S. public infrastructure from a D+ to a C-, engineers say there is much to be done to ensure the safety and reliability of roads, bridges and more for years to come.

The report card analyzes 18 infrastructure categories: aviation, broadband (new category), drinking water, hazardous waste, levees, public parks, roads, solid waste, transit, bridges, dams, energy, inland waterways, ports, rail, schools, stormwater and wastewater.

Long-time engineer and ASCE public policy committee member Maria Lehman says the nation’s infrastructure report card – released every 5 years – was well along when COVID-19 hit.

“From my public sector lens, too many public entities were in a death spiral in terms of how the pandemic was going to affect them,” Lehman said. “In June 2020, the ASCE published a report card as a roll-up without any grades because the data wasn’t going to be live at that stage, with our analysis and predictions about how transportation infrastructure was going to be affected. At that point in time, it was difficult to understand what the mid-March (2020) funding relief bill would mean at a granular level. How is the relief money going to match up with the losses in sectors such as aviation? Those are the questions we asked last year.”

In March 2021, the ASCE released its official national infrastructure report card, citing that the U.S.’s grade of C- is reflective of an “old age crisis,” according to Lehman.

“There is a water main break in this country every 2 minutes,” she said, “creating an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water lost each day, enough to fill more than 9,000 swimming pools. We have collectively left 43 percent of our public roadways in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has remained stagnant over the past several years. There are 30,000 miles of inventoried levees across the U.S. plus an additional 10,000 miles of levees whose location and condition are unknown.”

More than 178 million trips per day are taken over 617,000 U.S. bridges daily by school buses, cars and trucks, according to the ASCE. Lehman says the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates a 30 percent decline in revenue over the past 18 months. “This (national) report card reflects the first time that there are more fair and poor bridges in the U.S. than good ones,” she added.

And while there are far fewer transit users since COVID-19 struck, large cities’ transit systems were required to continue operating to provide essential employees with public transportation.

“The federal government has allowed states to flex the (federal) relief money to use it for transportation infrastructure,” said Lehman, “but at the same time more than a dozen states are challenging the provision that you can’t use relief money to lower taxes. I think there’s a disconnect between reinvesting that money in badly needed infrastructure work and putting people back to work in the process.”

The most recent report card about Missouri’s infrastructure, released in 2018, also cited a grade of C-.

For more information and analysis, see https://infrastructurereportcard.org/.

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