Civil Engineers Give American Infrastructure "D+" Rating

The study, published every four years, is a key tool for infrastructure advocates.
by | March 19, 2013 AT 3:15 PM

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave American infrastructure a "D+" grade in a report published Tuesday that will almost certainly provide infrastructure advocates with more ammunition to make the case for increased spending.

The grade, published in the organization's quadrennial "Report Card for America's Infrastructure," doesn't come as much of a surprise -- it has been a D or D+ for 15 years. Nor does the cost to get infrastructure to an acceptable level: Across all areas of infrastructure, the report concludes that $3.6 trillion is needed through 2020, that's up from $2.2 trillion in 2009. Based on current and projected spending, ASCE estimates the country will fall $1.6 trillion short of that total.

The report comes at a time when Congress will soon have to face big issues related to infrastructure. The highway and transit bill will expire next year, and given the financial unsustainability of the existing gas tax, many transportation advocates hope Congress will find a more viable funding source.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee this week will begin marking up the Water Resources Development Act, which deals with the country's waterway infrastructure. Levees and inland waterways both got the worst grade in the report, a D-. The lack of a federal levee safety program was cited, and the association called for more investment to avoid future flood damage. The group also said more investments should be made to the inland waterways system, portions of which haven't been updated since the 1950s, because of the vital role its plays in commerce.

The area of the report that got the highest marks was solid waste, which garnered a B+. ASCE officials highlighted the dramatic rise in recycling over the last 30 years.

Advocates for various modes of transportation were quick to jump on the report and cite it as evidence that the country should spend more on infrastructure. "This report card accentuates the need for a long-term, sustainable funding source for surface transportation moving forward," Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway Officials, said in a statement.

Michael Melaniphy, head of the public transit association, said the report shows that "there are devastating consequences to our economy and to our mobility" when the U.S. fails to invest in infrastructure.

But while this report -- and others -- have warned of rising congestion if adequate investment isn't made, the reality is quite different. From 2000 to 2011, for example, the amount of hours auto commuters wasted in congestion remained essentially flat, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute's urban mobility report released last year.

Others have expressed some skepticism regarding the report, noting that while ASCE's point is well taken, it's no surprise that an engineering association would be calling for big projects. "That's not the only kind of project that actually improves transportation," said Josh Schank, head of the Eno Center for Transportation.