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Civil engineer society's infrastructure grades: D for nation, C-plus for rail


The state of the nation's infrastructure earns only a D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its latest "Report Card for America's Infrastructure" versus the D grade assigned in 2009, the last time the association issued a report card.

For the first time, the report — which grades infrastructure using an A-to-F report card format — includes information pertaining to all 50 states. An advisory council comprising civil engineers appointed by ASCE assigns the grades according to eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation.

Although the cumulative grade rose slightly, the nation has a total infrastructure investment need of $3.6 trillion by 2020, leaving a funding shortfall of $1.6 trillion based on current funding levels, said ASCE officials in a press release. ASCE represents the interests of more than 140,000 civil engineers worldwide.

"A D+ is simply unacceptable for anyone serious about strengthening our nation's economy; however, the 2013 Report Card shows that this problem can be solved," said ASCE President Gregory DiLoreto. "If we want to create jobs, increase trade and assure the safety of our children, then infrastructure investment is the answer."

The 2013 grades by sector range from a high of B- for solid waste infrastructure to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Ports earned a C grade.

Six sectors (solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, bridges and rail) garnered incrementally higher grades since the last assessment in 2009, with rail registering the largest improvement from a C- to C+. Private investment for efficiency and connectivity helped improve the nation's railways, ports and energy grid, ASCE officials said, adding that Amtrak's record-high ridership helped boost rail's overall grade.

Association of American Railroads (AAR)
officials lauded the report card and rail's improved assessment. Despite the recent economic downturn, freight railroads have invested about $22 billion each year to build, maintain and upgrade their infrastructure, and this year they collectively plan to spend a record $24.5 billion, AAR officials said in a prepared statement.

"Freight railroads are the backbone of our nation's logistics supply chain, but freight rail's success also relies on the health and well-being of the other modes of transportation to which we connect to serve our customers," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger. "If railroads are to move more people and more goods, and help American businesses compete in a global marketplace, we must support transportation policies that make private investments possible and that can translate into action."

American Public Transportation Association (APTA) officials also commended the report, but more so for highlighting the need for urgent investments in public transportation infrastructure. The report provided examples of successful public transportation investments, such as the Regional Transportation District of Denver’s Eagle public-private project, a "first-of-its-kind agreement" to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a $2.1 billion expansion of the city’s public transit network, APTA officials said in a press release.

"How many more reports do we need to tell us that we must make investing in America’s infrastructure a priority," said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. "Our country must get serious about investing in infrastructure, including public transportation. This is an investment in our economic future and is essential for our mobility."

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)
officials concur.

"This Report Card accentuates the need for a long-term, sustainable funding source for surface transportation, moving forward," said AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright in a prepared statement. "By connecting greater investment in transportation projects to measurable improvements in efficiency and connectivity, the report demonstrates why adequate infrastructure investment is key to our future economic prosperity."

Building America's Future officials agreed the nation's overall grade underscores a need to "dramatically ramp up" long-term infrastructure investments.

"For years, we've known that our roads and bridges are deteriorating and not keeping up with demand, but this Report Card shows that America also has substantial deficiencies in our levees, wastewater systems, drinking water systems, aviation and more," said Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor who co-chairs Building America's Future. "For America to stay competitive in a global economy, we must significantly improve our energy, transportation and water systems."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/20/2013