Civil Engineers Release U.S. Infrastructure Scorecard: D+

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report on the state of America's infrastructure, extensively cited by the media. This year's report, released March 9, shows no improvement over 2013's, but do check the subcategories

3 minute read

March 10, 2017, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

The report grades a wide variety of infrastructure, 16 in all. Only one form received a decent grade: freight rail, a 'B'. That might seem a bit odd considering Tuesday's horrendous crash of a tour bus and CSX locomotive at a grade crossing in Biloxi, Mississippi, resulting in four fatalities. However, the rail report (pdf) accounts for these incidents:

Railroads have been reconfiguring highway-rail crossings to separate the two and improve safety. While fewer people are being killed or sustaining injuries in highway-rail crossing incidents, 237 people were killed and 991 people were injured in 2015.

Another high-profile incident last month that called attention to America's need for investment in aging infrastructure was the evacuation of almost 200,000 residents in northern California due to fears that the Oroville Dam's emergency spillway would fail. In South Carolina, nine dams were breached in 2015. Dams received a grade of D, same as 2013. According to the overview on this section:

[T]he overall number of high-hazard potential dams is increasing, with the number climbing to nearly 15,500 in 2016. Due to the lack of investment, the number of deficient high-hazard potential dams has also climbed to an estimated 2,170 or more. It is estimated that it will require an investment of nearly $45 billion to repair aging, yet critical, high-hazard potential dams.

The New York Times put the dam repair estimate at $60 billion in late February.

The category that generally gets the most attention is bridges: C+, unchanged since 2013. There's good and bad news in this category, according to the overview.

The U.S. has 614,387 bridges, almost four in 10 of which are 50 years or older. 56,007 — 9.1% — of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient in 2016.

While the number of bridges that are in such poor condition as to be considered structurally deficient is decreasing, the average age of America’s bridges keeps going up and many of the nation’s bridges are approaching the end of their design life. The most recent estimate puts the nation’s backlog of bridge rehabilitation needs at $123 billion.

The last major bridge collapse in the U.S. that this correspondent can recall is the I-5, Skagit Valley Bridge in Washington state in May 2013. However, deteriorating bridges and tunnels are featured regularly, though sometimes the deterioration can be imaginary.

Helpful links

  • Download the 112-page report here. However, the report's homepage allows viewers to click on the 16 infrastructure categories, or view state reports.
  • The 2013 report, posted here, can also be downloaded, as can prior reports [see chart below].
  • Washington Post coverage, which includes comparison with President Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Courtesy of ASCE: Report card history

CATEGORY 1988*        1998         2001       2005      2009     2013     2017
Aviation B- C- D D+ D D D
Bridges C- C C C C+ C+
Dams D D D+ D D D
Drinking Water B- D D D- D- D D
Energy D+ D D+ D+ D+
Hazardous Waste D D- D+ D D D D+
Inland Waterways B- D+ D- D- D- D
Levees D- D- D
Ports C C+
Public Parks & Recreation C- C- C- D+
Rail C- C- C+ B
Roads C+ D- D+ D D- D D
Schools D F D- D D D D+
Solid Waste C- C- C+ C+ C+ B- C+
Transit C- C- C- D+ D D D-
Wastewater C D+ D D- D- D D+
GPA C D D+ D D D+ D+

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