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America’s Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions

KRISTINA L. SWALLOW

AVP Consulting, Inc.

Las Vegas, Nevada


Whenever any one of us turns on the water, drives on a road, goes to a park or lake, takes out the trash, or turns on a light, we benefit from the vast complex network of systems that comprises America’s infrastructure. Infrastructure is silent, invisible, and rarely thought of unless something goes wrong and it fails to perform. Unfortunately, due to age, poor maintenance, and higher than predicted demands, much of our infrastructure is in danger of failing, and it is critical that it be brought up to current standards.

In 1988, a congressionally chartered commission, the National Council on Public Works Improvement, completed a study on the state of America’s infrastructure entitled Fragile Foundations: A Report on America’s Public Works. Using a report card format to guide its analysis and publish its results, the commission gave the United States an overall infrastructure grade of C, stating that an annual increase in investment of up to 100 percent was required to improve it (ASCE, 2009, p.9).

Since then the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has issued four report cards on the nation’s infrastructure. In the most recent report card, issued this past March, infrastructure was given an overall grade of D (Table 1) (ASCE, 2009, p. 2). ASCE estimates that infrastructure spending in the next five years will have to be $2.2 trillion to improve its condition of to “good” (ASCE, 2009, p. 6). This represents an investment of $500 billion more than was estimated in



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America’s Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions krisTina l. sWalloW AVP Consulting, Inc. Las Vegas, Nevada Whenever any one of us turns on the water, drives on a road, goes to a park or lake, takes out the trash, or turns on a light, we benefit from the vast complex network of systems that comprises America’s infrastructure. Infrastructure is silent, invisible, and rarely thought of unless something goes wrong and it fails to perform. Unfortunately, due to age, poor maintenance, and higher than predicted demands, much of our infrastructure is in danger of failing, and it is critical that it be brought up to current standards. In 1988, a congressionally chartered commission, the National Council on Public Works Improvement, completed a study on the state of America’s infra - structure entitled Fragile Foundations: A Report on America’s Public Works. Using a report card format to guide its analysis and publish its results, the com - mission gave the United States an overall infrastructure grade of C, stating that an annual increase in investment of up to 100 percent was required to improve it (ASCE, 2009, p.9). Since then the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has issued four report cards on the nation’s infrastructure. In the most recent report card, issued this past March, infrastructure was given an overall grade of D (Table 1) (ASCE, 2009, p. 2). ASCE estimates that infrastructure spending in the next five years will have to be $2.2 trillion to improve its condition of to “good” (ASCE, 2009, p. 6). This represents an investment of $500 billion more than was estimated in 11

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120 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING TABLE 1 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure Aviation D Bridges C Dams D Drinking Water D– Energy D+ Hazardous Waste D Inland Waterways D- Levees D- Public Parks and Recreation C- Rail C- Roads D- Schools D Solid Waste C+ Transit D Wastewater D- AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE G.P.A. D Note: From 200 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, American Society of Civil Engineers, p. 2. Copyright 2009 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Adapted with permission. ASCE’s 2005 report card and approximately $1.1 trillion more than the U.S. cur- rently invests in infrastructure (Table 2) (ASCE, 2009, p. 7). The ASCE report card evaluates the condition of infrastructure as determined by its ability to meet current and projected needs and its resiliency and estimates the costs to improve the quality from its current grade to a B. Although long- term maintenance and funding for capital improvements can prolong the life of infrastructure systems, effectively improving the nation’s infrastructure will require prioritized spending and an understanding of the underlying causes of failure. ASCE found that infrastructure systems across the nation were (1) either approaching or had already exceeded their overall design life; (2) trying to meet demands that exceeded their design capacity; (3) lacking in redundancy; (4) inter- dependent on other failing systems; and (5) facing technological obsolescence. By recognizing that the overall decline is attributable to more than one contributing factor, engineers can take a broad approach to understanding the problems and developing solutions.

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TABLE 2 Estimated Five-Year Investment Needs, in Billions of Dollars AMERICAN ESTIMATED RECOVERY AND FIVE-YEAR ACTUAL RESINVESTMENT INVESTMENT CATEGORY 5-YEAR NEED SPENDING* ACT (P.L. III-005) SHORTFALL Aviation 87 45 1.3 (40.7) Dams 12.5 5 0.05 (7.45) Drinking water and wastewater systems 255 140 6.4 (108.6) Energy systems 75 34.5 11 (29.5) Hazardous waste and solid waste systems 77 32.5 1.1 (43.4) Inland waterways 50 25 4.475 (20.5) Levees 50 1.13 0 (1.13) Public parks and recreation 85 36 0.835 (48.17) Rail systems 63 42 9.3 (11.7) Roads and bridges 930 351.5 27.5 (549.5) Discretionary grants for surface transportation 1.5 Schools 160 125 0** (35) Transit 265 66.5 8.4 (190.1) 2.122 trillion*** 903 billion 71.76 billion (1.176 trillion) Total**** $2.2 trillion Note: From 200 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, American Society of Civil Engineers, p. 7. Copyright 2009 by the American Society of Civil Engi- neers. Adapted with permission. * 5 year spending estimate based on the most recent available spending at all levels of government and not indexed for inflation ** The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $53.6 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for education, as of press time, it was not known how much would be spent on school infrastructure. *** Not adjusted for inflation **** Assumes 3% annual inflation 121

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122 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING WATER SYSTEMS Drinking water systems touch the lives of all Americans, and their continued performance is critical to our overall health. At a time when much of the United States is deep into a multi-year drought, it is vital that drinking water systems function continuously, correctly, and efficiently, and that they have the best tech - nology to optimize consumption. However, ASCE gives the nation’s drinking water systems a grade of D-. Despite significant investment at the federal and local levels, ASCE reports that there is still a projected $11 billion shortfall in the funding necessary to replace facilities that are nearing the end of their useful lives (ASCE, 2009, p. 26). In 2000 the U.S. population consumed an estimated 43 billion gallons of water per day. An additional 7 billion gallons of clean drinking water are lost every day through leaking pipes (ASCE, 2009, p. 24). In addition, drinking water systems are not as resilient as they should be; most of them do not have the redundancy necessary to maintain service in the event of a disruption. A complicating factor is their dependence on a reliable power source to provide continuous service; energy infrastructure earned a D+ rating. The nation’s wastewater systems, facing similar challenges, also received a grade of D-. The facilities in many of these systems have reached the end of their useful lives resulting “in the release of as much as 10 billion gallons of raw sewage yearly” (ASCE, 2009, p. 58). In addition, many are combined storm water/sanitary sewer systems that are incapable of conveying flows generated by major storms or runoff from heavy snowfalls. At a minimum, there must be separate sanitary sewer systems in these locations to prevent uncontrolled discharges of raw sew - age. The projected annual funding shortfall for wastewater treatment systems is $6 billion (ASCE, 2009, p. 58). To meet increasing demands, maintain critical systems, replace aging facili- ties, and create necessary redundancies to ensure resiliency, ASCE estimates that there is an overall need for $255 billion for water and wastewater systems in the next five years. However, in January 2009, the estimated spending for the next five years was only $146.4 billion, representing a $108.6 billion shortfall. Although there are long-term federal funding programs for national defense and the interstate highway and aviation systems, no such program exists for drinking water and wastewater systems (ASCE, 2009, p. 60). Long-term funding for drinking water and wastewater systems is critical to maintaining and improving public health and should be coordinated with a variety of other funding mechanisms at the local and state levels. In addition, water is becoming increasingly scarce. Hence water and wastewater utilities will have to work together to identify ways to increase supply to meet growing water needs. Solutions may include developing reclaimed water systems, improving capture of storm water, and using treated wastewater to replenish groundwater supplies.

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12 AMERICA’S INFRASTRUCTURE RPORT CARD TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS The nation’s transportation systems face similar funding and aging chal- lenges. Although bridges received the highest grade on the report card, a C, more than one in four bridges is either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (ASCE, 2009, p. 74). With a typical design life of 50 years, “the average bridge . . . is now 43 years old” (ASCE, 2009, p. 76). Although a structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridge is not neces - sarily unsafe, it “cannot accommodate current traffic volumes, vehicle sizes, and weights” (ASCE, 2009, p. 76). The resulting restrictions create congestion, delays, and unreliable service for emergency vehicles. The limitations are compounded by growing traffic demands. In the past 20 years truck traffic has more than doubled, and trucks are carrying increasingly large loads. The condition of bridges is only one contributing factor to congestion on our roadways. ASCE gives the roads themselves a grade of D-. Congestion on road- ways results in time wasted and fuel costs of $710 per motorist annually (ASCE, 2009, p. 100). In addition to these wasted resources, the poor quality of roadways, 84.9 percent of which are rated as only adequate, leads to safety problems. In 2007 alone there were 41,059 fatalities from motor vehicle crashes and 2.5 million injuries (ASCE, 2009, p. 100). Trucks are a significant factor in problems with roadways. In the 10 years ending in 2004, “freight traffic moved by truck grew 33%” (ASCE, 2009, p. 100). This significant increase is a strong indication of “the increased dependency of commerce on the efficiency of the roadways and the added wear and tear [on the roads] caused by trucks” (ASCE, 2009, p. 100). The resiliency of roadways and bridges is critical. When a bridge or roadway fails, there is often an immediate loss of life and, until the system is restored, increased delays for roadway users. ASCE estimates a total of $930 billion will be required over the next five years to improve the nation’s roadways to a grade of B. Of that amount, they anticipate that there will be a funding shortfall of $549.5 billion. In addition to providing funding at all levels for maintenance and capital improvements, the nation’s goals should be not only to improve the condition of roads and bridges, but also to increase research on ways to improve safety, reduce lost time due to construction, and improve overall movement on the roadways. CONCLUSION This brief summary highlights some of the challenges facing two types of infrastructure systems included in the ASCE 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. This study provides a snapshot of the current state of America’s infrastructure, identifies the reasons for its decay, and offers specific recommenda- tions for addressing the challenges to infrastructure systems in all categories.

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12 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING In addition, ASCE developed five key solutions applicable to improving the overall state of our infrastructure: (1) increase federal leadership in infrastructure; (2) promote sustainability and resilience; (3) develop federal, regional, and state plans for infrastructure; (4) address life-cycle costs and ongoing maintenance needs; and (5) increase infrastructure investment from all stakeholders (ASCE, 2009, p. 11). Implementing these solutions will result, over time, in an improved infrastructure for the nation that will support the health, safety, and economic security of its citizens. REFERENCE ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers). 2009. 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Available online at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org (accessed July 2009).