The American Society of Civil Engineers has once again assigned a barely passing grade of “D+” to the nation’s overall infrastructure and an even more parsimonious “D” to our road network. Bridges, though, fared a bit better— scoring a “C+.”
On the other hand, ASCE conceded in its latest Infrastructure Report Card that there has been “incremental progress” on fixing infrastructure. Still, there hasn’t been enough positive movement across the broad infrastructure board yet to secure even an overall rating of “C.”
According to ASCE, the infrastructure mess adds up to a funding shortfall of $2 trillion that it projects by 2025 will ding the overall U.S. economy by $3.9 trillion.
What's much more, the group estimates that it will take a staggering $4.59 trillion in funding over the next 8 years to bring all the infrastructure studied up to what ASCE considers as acceptable "B"-grade standard.
ASCE noted that its 2017 grades range from a high of “B” for Rail to a low of “D-“ for Transit. The group said that spread illustrates the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Here is the grading system spelled out: “A” is “exceptional; “B” is good; “C” is mediocre; “D” is poor, at risk; and “F” is—no surprise here-- failing, unfit for purpose.
Three categories (Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit) saw their grade decline this time while seven (Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater) saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013: Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.
Where there was improvement, it came thanks to “vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.” ASCE contended that these improvements “demonstrate what can be accomplished when solutions that move projects forward are approved and implemented.”
"While our nation's infrastructure problems are significant, they are solvable," ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei said in a statement on the report card. In a thinly veiled reference to President Trump among other politicians, she added that, "We need our elected leaders-- those who pledged to rebuild our infrastructure while on the campaign trail-- to follow through on those promises with investment and innovative solutions that will ensure our infrastructure is built for the future."
The report finds that more than two out of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are congested and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014. On top of that, one out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition and “roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs.” And after years of decline, traffic fatalities increased by 7% from 2014 to 2015, with 35,092 people dying on America’s roads.
As for what to do about those crumbling and inadequate roads, ASCE recommends:
- Increase funding from all levels of government and the private sector to tackle the massive backlog of highway needs.
- Fix the federal Highway Trust Fund by raising the federal motor fuels tax. To ensure long-term, sustainable funding for the federal surface transportation program, the current user fee of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel should be raised and tied to inflation to restore its purchasing power, fill the funding deficit, and ensure reliable funding for the future.
- Tackle congestion through policies and technologies that maximize the capacity of the existing road network and create an integrated, multimodal transportation system.
- Prioritize maintenance and the state of good repair to maximize the lifespan of roads.
- State and local governments should ensure their funding mechanisms (motor fuel taxes or other) are sufficient to fund their needed investment.
- All levels of government need to think long-term about how to fund their roads and consider potential alternatives to the motor fuel taxes, including further study and piloting of mileage-based user fees.
- Increase investment and expand the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program to find new ways and further propagate existing methods to make roads safe for all users.
A statement on the report’s conclusions issued by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called for Congress to tackle the infrastructure funding crisis in a bipartisan manner. “After kicking the can down the road on funding our nation’s infrastructure for decades, it’s no wonder we didn’t make the honor roll,” he said.
“Failing to upgrade and maintain our infrastructure robs our economy of productivity and hinders our competitiveness in the global marketplace,” he added. “Finding smart, modern ways to fund these long overdue improvements would put Americans to work and support our growing, modern economy. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I hope my colleagues will join me to do the job we’ve failed to do for so many years.”
As for the other side of the aisle, per a Politico.com post, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer opted to punt when questioned on March 9 if reports about the nation’s infrastructure woes would apply “new urgency” to the administration’s stated goal of sending $1-trillion infrastructure funding plan to Capitol Hill.
Spicer was said to reply that “There is a lot of work being done behind the scenes. And I don't want to put a timeline on that. ... We're currently dealing with the repeal and replace of health care. I think we need to move on to tax reform. But ... we're trying to figure out how to move that vehicle. There will be further discussion of that as we get closer to the budget."