Environment News Service
March 10, 2005


RESTON, Virginia, March 10, 2005 (ENS) -- America's roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, dams, rail lines, and waste treatment systems are failing to keep up with the heavy demands made of them, and will take a total investment of $1.6 trillion dollars over five years to bring up to acceptable levels. This bleak report card on the nation's infrastructure was issued Wednesday by the people who build and repair these structures, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Once every four years, America's oldest national engineering society reports on the condition of the nation's infrastructure, and each report card has been worse than the last.

"Our infrastructure is sliding toward failure and the prospect for any real improvement is grim," William Henry, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers declared, releasing the society's 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure at a news conference in Reston.

Grades range from a high of C+ for solid waste to a low of D- for drinking water, navigable waterways and wastewater.

"In 2005, the overall grade for our infrastructure is a D, down from a D+," said Henry. "Since the time our infrastructure was last graded in 2001, there has been little or no improvement in any of 12 infrastructure categories."

Henry called on President George W. Bush and Congress to appoint a new federal commission to develop America's infrastructure agenda for the 21st century. Citing the example of President Ronald Reagan who appointed the first national commission on infrastructure, Henry said it is crucial to "adopt a coordinated approach to the development and maintenance of our infrastructure."

"The choices and decisions we must make will affect the health, safety and prosperity of every citizen in this country," he said.

The 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure assesses the same 12 infrastructure categories as in 2001, in addition to three new categories -- public parks and recreation, rail and security.

Infrastructure security received an incomplete. The security of U.S. critical infrastructure has improved since September 11, 2001, the engineers said, but the information needed to accurately assess its overall status is not readily available to engineering and design professionals. Now, they said, along with capacity and condition, it is "crucial to consider infrastructure security" in any discussion of infrastructure upgrades.

While there has been some improvement in aviation and schools, ASCE's analysis indicates that overall conditions have remained the same for bridges, dams and solid waste, and worsened in roads, drinking water, transit, wastewater, hazard waste, navigable waterways and energy.

Both drinking water and wastewater declined from a D to a D- in the past four years, Henry said, due to aging facilities that do not comply with safe drinking water regulations.

"Every day, six billion gallons of clean, treated drinking water disappears, mostly due to old, leaky pipes and water mains," said Henry. "That's enough water to serve the population of a state the size of California."

Aging wastewater systems discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into U.S. surface waters each year, endangering public health, Henry said. "In northern Delaware, children often wade in the streams and rivers on hot summer days, but only one percent of those rivers and streams are fully safe for swimming."

"Federal funding for wastewater improvements in 2005 is less than 10 percent of the total national requirement. At those funding levels, within a generation America's water will be dirtier than it was before the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972," Henry warned.

The 2005 Report Card was assessed by an advisory council of 24 civil engineers representing a range of civil engineering disciplines.

Each of the 12 categories was evaluated on the basis of condition and performance as reported by federal sources; capacity versus need; and current and pending investment of state, local and federal funding versus need.

In transportation, said Henry, "two categories close to all of us have worsened -- roads from D+ to D and transit from C- to D+."

"Americans spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic, at a cost of $63 billion a year to the economy," he said. Poor road conditions cost each American $257 a year in repairs and operating costs, which adds up to a total of $54 billion.

Many Americans sought relief from traffic congestion by using public transit, yet, many transit services are borrowing funds to maintain operations, even as they are raising fares and cutting back service.

While long term federal transportation programs remain unauthorized since expiring on September 30, 2003, Henry pointed out, "the nation continues to shortchange funding for needed transportation improvements."

For the first time since World War II, limited rail capacity has created significant chokepoints and delays, the engineers said, predicting that this problem will increase as freight rail is expected to increase at least 50 percent by 2020.

In addition, the use of rail for intercity passenger and commuter rail service is increasingly being recognized as a worthwhile transportation investment. "A combined investment need of $12 to $13 billion per year is needed to maintain existing rail infrastructure and expand for future growth," the report projects.

Only two categories improved slightly -- aviation, given a D+ from a D, and schools, rated a D compared to a D- in 2001. The engineers said airport capacity must be addressed to avoid costly delays in the future. Demand for air travel is on the rebound with a projected growth of 4.3 percent annually through 2015 and new challenges of accommodating increasing numbers of regional jets and new super-jumbo jets anticipated.

The federal government has not assessed the condition of America's schools since 1999, when it estimated that $127 billion was needed to bring facilities to good condition. Other sources have since reported a need as high as $268 billion. Many school facilities are outdated and "sometimes dangerous," the engineers said and cannot meet the requirements of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act.

The report card quotes a student at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, California, where severe overcrowding leaves students without desks, who said, "Every student deserves a chair."

Two areas in decline are energy and hazardous waste, both from a D+ to D.

"The U.S. power transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Despite increased demand, transmission capacity has decreased," the report card warns. Yet, maintenance expenditures have decreased one percent annually since 1992.

In 2002, the Department of Energy stated that the existing transmission system was not designed to meet present demand, which could result in increased electricity costs to consumers and greater risk of blackouts. The August 2003 blackout cost billions of dollars in lost productivity and revenue.

For hazardous waste, federal funding for cleanup of the nation's worst toxic waste sites has steadily decreased since 1998, reaching its lowest level since 1986 in fiscal year 2005. "There are 1,237 contaminated sites on the National Priorities List, with a possible addition of 10,154," said the report card, referring to the Superfund list of the nation's most hazardous toxic waste sites.

In 2003, there were 205 cities with brownfields sites awaiting cleanup that would generate an estimated 576,373 jobs and $1.9 million annually if redeveloped, said the engineers.

For dams, the grade remained a D, the same as it received on the 2001 ASCE report card. Federally-owned dams are in good condition and there have been modest gains in repair of small watershed dams, the engineers report.

However, Henry warned, "since 1998, the number of unsafe dams rose by 33 percent to more than 3,500. It will take more than $10 billion over the next 12 years to address all critical non-federal dams, dams which can pose a direct threat to human life should they fail."

One new category, public parks and recreation, received a grade of C-. Many public parks, beaches and recreational harbors built 50 or more years ago are "falling into a state of disrepair," the engineers report.

These facilities are "anchors for tourism and economic development" and often provide the public's only access to the country's cultural, historic and natural resources, yet, the engineers point out, the National Park Service estimates a maintenance backlog of $6.1 billion for their facilities.

For more information, including state infrastructure statistics, visit www.asce.org/reportcard.

Founded in 1852, ASCE represented more than 137,000 civil engineers worldwide, and is America's oldest national engineering society. ASCE celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002.

Quote of Note "Become intimate with your own backyard, with a bit of riverbank, with a pond or hill. The rest of the watershed, the meta- landscape, the continent, planet and universe will be naturally drawn into this intimacy." -- John McClellan, in "The Many Voices of the Boulder Creek Watershed"

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004.