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Report card: America's infrastructure flunking.

A new report by the American Society of Civil Engineers has concluded that the condition of America's roads, bridges, drinking water, and other public works have shown little improvement since they were graded an overall D+ in 2001, with some areas sliding toward failing grades. Meanwhile, the estimated cost of infrastructure renewal has increased to $1.6 trillion over a five-year period--up from $1.3 trillion in 2001.

The 2003 Progress Report for America's Infrastructure was prepared by a panel of 20 eminent civil engineers with expertise in a range of practice specialties. The report assesses the progress and decline of the nation's infrastructure in 12 categories: roads, bridges, mass transit, aviation, schools, drinking water, wastewater, dams, solid waste, hazardous waste, navigable waterways, and energy (see report card).

"Time is working against our nation's infrastructure," said ASCE President Thomas L. Jackson. "Since we graded the infrastructure in 2001, our roads are more congested than ever, the number of unsafe and hazardous dams has increased, and our schools are unable to accommodate the mandated reductions in class size."

Among the trends working against efforts to raise conditions to acceptable levels are state and local budget crises and federal programs that either fall short of meeting the demands for infrastructure maintenance or will soon expire. Contributing factors to the problem of overburdened infrastructure include population growth, voter opposition to infrastructure projects, and the continuing deterioration of an aging system. Furthermore, the threat of possible terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure has diverted maintenance and growth funding to security measures.

The country's growing, sprawling population continues to overburden transportation, water, and energy systems that reached capacity long ago. Two years after the nation's energy infrastructure received a D+, the widespread failure of the electrical grid in the Northeast and Midwest this August left tens of millions in the dark and brought other infrastructure systems to a grinding halt. New York City's mass transit was stopped in its tracks, leaving millions of commuters stranded. Cleveland's water treatment facilities failed, leaving citizens wondering how they were to boil water without electricity.

Another factor in the dismal forecast is that citizens are failing to enact measures that invest in the future of their communities, even as federal, state, and local funding for infrastructure improvement is in danger of drying up. In northern Virginia, for example, where traffic congestion is among the worst in the country, voters failed to pass a sales tax proposal last fall that would have raised billions for the area's overburdened road and transit system.

With the future of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century still in doubt, America no longer has a coordinated directive for improving the nation's transportation system. "TEA-21 reauthorization is critical in order to expand infrastructure investment, enhance infrastructure delivery, and maximize infrastructure effectiveness," Jackson said.

The assessment detailed in the progress report was based on the condition and performance of each infrastructure category as reported by federal sources; capacity of infrastructure versus need; and current and pending investment of state, local, and federal funding for infrastructure versus need. The full report is available online at

 2001 Grade 2003 Trend

Roads D+ [down arrow]
Bridges C [left and right arrow]
Transit C- [down arrow]
Aviation D [left and right arrow]
Schools D- [left and right arrow]
Drinking Water D [down arrow]
Wastewater D [down arrow]
Dams D [down arrow]
Solid Waste C+ [left and right arrow]
Hazardous Waste D+ [left and right arrow]
Navigable Waterways D+ [down arrow]
Energy D+ [down arrow]
America's Infrastructure GPA D+

Total Investment Needs: $1.6 Trillion

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers
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Publication:Government Finance Review
Article Type:Illustration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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