National Academies Press: OpenBook

Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium (2010)

Chapter: America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow

« Previous: Introduction--Seth Guikema and Patrick O'Mara
Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×

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

Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×

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 2009ReportCardforAmerica’sInfrastructure, 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. currently 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.

Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×

TABLE 2 Estimated Five- Year Investment Needs, in Billions of Dollars

CATEGORY

5- YEAR NEED

ESTIMATED ACTUAL SPENDING*

AMERICAN RECOVERY AND RESINVESTMENT ACT ( P. L. III- 005)

FIVE- YEAR INVESTMENT SHORTFALL

Aviation

87

45

1.3

(40.7)

Dams

12.5

5

0.05

(7.45)

Drinking water and waste water 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 Discretionary grants for surface transportation

930

351.5

27.5 1.5

(549.5)

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 2 009 Report Card for America ’s Infrastructure , American Society of Civil Engineers, p. 7. Copyright 2009 by the American Society of Civil Engineers. 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

Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×

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 technology 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 sewage. 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 facilities, 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.

Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×

TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

The nation’s transportation systems face similar funding and aging challenges. 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 necessarily 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 roadways 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 recommendations for addressing the challenges to infrastructure systems in all categories.

Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×

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).

Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×
Page 119
Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×
Page 120
Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×
Page 121
Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×
Page 122
Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×
Page 123
Suggested Citation:"America's Infrastructure Report Card: Causes, Costs, and Solutions--Kristina L. Swallow." National Research Council. 2010. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12821.
×
Page 124
Next: Infrastructure Resilience to Disasters--Stephanie E. Chang »
Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2009 Symposium Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $55.00 Buy Ebook | $43.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

In 1995, the National Academy of Engineering initiated the Frontiers of Engineering Program, which brings together about 100 young engineering leaders at annual symposia to learn about cutting-edge research and technical work in a variety of engineering fields. The 2009 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium was held at The National Academies' Arnold O. and Mabel Beckman Center on September 10-12. Speakers were asked to prepare extended summaries of their presentations, which are reprinted in this volume. The intent of this book is to convey the excitement of this unique meeting and to highlight cutting-edge developments in engineering research and technical work.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!