Week of March 28, 2005
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Civil Engineers Give U.S. Infrastructure a Poor Grade

The state of the nation’s infrastructure gets a D average on the report card that was released earlier this month by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Overall, the nation needs to invest $1.6 trillion in its infrastructure over the next five years, the report says.

Among the report card comments:

  • The grade for drinking water has slipped from a D in 2001 to a D- in the latest report card, as the country faces an annual shortfall of $11 billion to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations.
  • “Many of the nation’s public parks, beaches and recreational harbors are falling into a state of disrepair,” the report notes, with much of the initial construction on roads, bridges, utility systems, shore protection structures and beaches done more than 50 years ago. The National Park Service estimates that it has a backlog of $6.1 billion in maintaining its facilities. Public parks and recreation receives a grade of C-.
  • Roads have also been getting worse, declining from a D+ to D. The report says that poor road conditions are costing U.S. motorists $54 billion a year in repairs and operating costs — or $275 per driver. Americans spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic — at a cost of $63.2 billion a year to the economy.
  • Although schools have shown some improvement, thanks largely to bond initiatives, and have moved up from D- to D, the cost of bringing facilities to good condition is today as high as $268 billion, compared to an estimate by the federal government of $127 billion in 1999.
  • Solid waste gets the best grade on the report card, with a C+, with the construction of regional landfills to offset a decline in those operated by municipalities. Even so, the U.S. produced 369 million tons of solid waste of all types in 2002, and only about a quarter of that amount was recycled or recovered.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the nation must invest $390 billion over the next 20 years to replace aging wastewater management systems.

The ASCE report makes extensive policy recommendations, including many for increases in federal spending.

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