Report on America’s Infrastructure
By Sharon Lo, Managing Editor, DTJ
Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases its report card on America’s infrastructure which examines current conditions and needs, assigns grades and makes recommendations to raise them. An assessment of the nation’s 16 major infrastructure categories, the report card is a useful benchmark to track the progress of US infrastructure and serves as a periodic reminder to everyone just how important infrastructure is to the nation. The 16 categories are aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit, and waste water.
The most recent report card came out more than a year ago in March of 2017 with America’s overall Grade Point Average (GPA) a dismal D+. With President Trump’s focus on infrastructure and Congress seeming to agree that infrastructure was indeed a priority, it felt more likely than other years that we would see progress on areas ASCE identified as deficient. But thus far there has been little real action, though that may soon change as the Senate just recently and overwhelmingly passed legislation that would provide $1 billion in infrastructure grants.
These grants, known as the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) Transportation Discretionary Grants program, have been implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to replace the pre-existing Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. BUILD grants are intended for investments in surface transportation infrastructure and are to be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact. The funding can support roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports or intermodal transportation, with projects evaluated on safety, economic competitiveness, quality of life, environmental protection, state of good repair, innovation, partnership, and additional non-Federal revenue for future transportation infrastructure investments.
Being an association of transportation and logistics professionals, you may already be asking ‘so how is our commercial transportation infrastructure doing?’ That’s a bit of a mixed bag. The rail industry fares the best, holding the highest grade on the entire report card at a B. This should not be entirely surprising to anyone who tracks (no pun intended) the rail industry’s continuous investments in its infrastructure. A majority of the nation’s rail infrastructure is owned by the rail industry, a fact that may help to explain why it receives greater care and investments than other infrastructure categories.
Ports were not far behind rail with a C+ grade. The main concerns facing ports are congestion, and the need to modernize and expand to accommodate larger ships. Bridges also earned a C+ grade. Just over nine percent of the nation’s bridges are considered deficient—a number which is actually on the decline. However, the average age of US bridges is increasing and many are reaching the end of their design life.
Inland waterways are experiencing a similar story, with most locks and dams already past their design life. This results in significant delays along the system and is the reason for them earning a D grade. Also, earning D grades and rounding out the major commercial transportation categories are roads and aviation. Roads’ grade is a result of congestion, traffic and poor conditions. Growing congestion is also the culprit behind the aviation industry’s low grade. But Aviation may soon see its situation improve, as US Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao recently announced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will award $616.9 million in airport infrastructure grants, as part of the total $3.18 billion in Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for airports across the US.
The overall D+ GPA remained unchanged from the 2013 report card indicating no progress during those four years. According to the White House, the major hindrance to making progress is red tape such as Federal regulations and lengthy review processes which they say can take as long as seven years. Hopefully, recent actions by the US Senate and Secretary Chao are signs of changes to come—and changes to come before we receive our next report card.
You can read more on America’s 2017 Report Card, including reports on each of the 16 categories of infrastructure, at www.infrastructurereportcard.org.