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Nation’s Infrastructure Still Crumbling, But at a Slightly Slower Rate

Mar 27, 2013

The American Society of Civil Engineers assigns a grade assessment to the condition of America’s infrastructure every four years. The ASCE report card that came out a few days ago gives the fundamental facilities and systems that serve our country an overall grade of D+. And that’s actually good news.

The ASCE report addresses 16 types of infrastructure: aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit, and wastewater. Final grades were assigned based on capacity to meet future demand, condition, funding, future needs, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation.

In 2009, the overall grade was a flat D. The new report represents the first time in the 15 years that the engineering organization has conducted its study that the grade has improved. The 2013 report is showing progress in six areas, including bridges, rail, wastewater and drinking water. No category saw a lower grade than that given in the previous report, though the nation’s inland ports, waterways and levees received a near-flunking grade of D-. The highest grade, B-, went to the handling of solid waste. (The full report can be downloaded, along with interactive analysis of all 50 states, at infrastructurereportcard.org.)

"A D+ is simply unacceptable for anyone serious about strengthening our nation's economy," said ASCE President Gregory DiLoreto, quoted in The New York Times. "We're investing in infrastructure; we're just not investing enough. We’re treading water, and we need to improve.”

In fact, according to ASCE, the U.S. needs to invest 80 percent more ($3.6 trillion) by 2020 to put the nation’s critical systems in a state of good repair — $1.6 trillion more than current funding levels. Without higher spending, the costs of travel delays, power and water outages will reach $1.8 trillion by 2020, including $1.2 trillion borne by businesses and $611 billion for households, the engineering group said.

More information about the "2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure” is available at Bloomberg News and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

NECA’s Position on Infrastructure Investment

President Obama released his latest framework for infrastructure investment during the 2013 State of the Union Address. NECA issued a statement on the plan, noting that it is a good first step towards investing in transportation infrastructure and streamlining the regulatory process to ensure more efficient completion of these long-overdue repairs.

However, NECA also noted that the plan does not address investing in national grid maintenance and upgrades. This is a cause for concern, especially in light of the fact that recent reports on grid infrastructure investment compared to needs reveal a $107 billion shortfall through 2020, or approximately $11 billion in new funding needed each year until the year 2020.

NECA CEO John M. Grau issued the following statement upon examination of the Administration’s plan:

“The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) recognizes the new plan announced by the President as a first step to address the nation’s aging and ailing infrastructure. As the voice of the electrical construction industry, NECA and our member contractors are acutely aware of the challenges facing the critical infrastructure that connects our country, especially the national electrical grid. A national plan to improving infrastructure safety and capacity is both essential and overdue, and the proposal to use financing alternatives and streamline completion of these repairs is welcome news.

“However, the President’s plan, which focuses primarily on transportation infrastructure, fails to address our national electrical grid. Electricity is our connection to modern society. It is essential to our national security, public safety, financial systems, healthcare and education. When that connection is severed, through either a natural disaster or a breakdown in the fragmented, overloaded grid, all aspects of our lives are affected. We cannot communicate, we cannot access vital information, and we cannot ensure safety and security for our citizens without electricity.

“While short-term infrastructure repairs are needed, it is time to get serious about long-term investment in national grid maintenance and upgrades. Recent reports on grid infrastructure investment compared to needs reveal a $107 billion shortfall through 2020, or approximately $11 billion in new funding needed each year until the year 2020.

“NECA will continue to work with the White House, Congress and industry stakeholders to ensure that necessary repairs and capacity improvements to the national grid are prioritized as we strengthen critical infrastructure.”