WASHINGTON -- America's civil engineers have given the nation's infrastructure an average grade of"D," and say it will require more than $1 trillion and a new national public-private partnership to fix it.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has released a 1998 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, which gives letter grades for the nation's public infrastructure and environment. The worst grade went to schools, which received an "F." The highest grade was given to mass transit, which was rated a "C." Hazardous waste and roads received a "D- ," drinking water and dams were rated a "D," wastewater received a "D+," and bridges, solid waste, and aviation received a "C-."
"When 1,200 people die each year from drinking tap water, our school buildings are literally crumbling, more than half of our roadways are in substandard condition, and we will face gridlock at our airports by the year 2004, it is fair to say our infrastructure is in pretty bad shape. And without serious help, it's not going to get any better," said ASCE President Luther W. Graef.
ASCE's grades were determined by a panel of civil engineering experts who evaluated each category on the basis of its condition and performance, need versus capacity, and need versus funding.
The report card comes 10 years after the National Council on Public Works Improvement graded the condition of America's infrastructure, giving it an overall grade of "C."
ASCE examined essentially the same categories the Council did in 1988, and added a category for school buildings. The Society cautioned against directly comparing its grades with the Council's 1988 grades, but stated the overall condition of our infrastructure has not improved in the past 10 years and in some categories has worsened.
"It is the job of America's civil engineers to design, build, and maintain a safe and effective infrastructure system and clean up the environment. We are doing the best we can with the minimal resources we have. But, let's be honest, you can't just put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound and expect it to make a difference," said Graef.
To repair and renew our infrastructure to meet our growing needs, it will take at least $1.3 trillion in capital investment, said ASCE. The Society based this estimate on recent federal government reports.
The report card and the $1.3 trillion needs assessment comes at a time when Congress is considering the fiscal 1999 budget and what to do with the budget surplus.
"The Clinton Administration's budget proposal is disappointing, especially coming from a president who campaigned on infrastructure renewal. We support a balanced budget and want to see America's economy grow. But a crumbling infrastructure can't support a healthy economy. And, if we want more and bigger budget surpluses in future years, we must invest in the infrastructure renewal that will make that possible," said Graef.
Some of the investment needs that ASCE identified are being funded already through federal, state, and local programs and user fees. But, citing current poor conditions as evidence, ASCE says our investment levels are clearly inadequate.
"The federal government continues to shift the financial burden to the states, yet voters have been reluctant to support new taxes or bond issues to build desperately needed community schools or water treatment plants," said Graef.
While ASCE blamed much of the nation's infrastructure problems on limited funding at all levels of government, it also cited other factors.
"We continue to merely patch up outdated and fragmented transportation systems instead of investing in new technologies, establishing better links between traditional transportation and mass transit, and encouraging new behaviors. We also focus efforts on 'end-of-the-pipe' solutions _ cleaning up the hazardous waste after it has contaminated our environment -- instead of reducing it at the source," said Graef.
To help address some of these issues, ASCE's research arm, the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF), announced plans to develop a new partnership among industry, government, and the academic community, called The Partnership for the Advancement of Infrastructure and Its Renewal (PAIR). Still in proposal form, PAIR is designed to accelerate infrastructure renewal and make it more sustainable, according to CERF.
"Current infrastructure research and development efforts are minimal compared to other industries. Our goal is to help consolidate and streamline R&D efforts to efficiently move new technologies and materials into practice. We will seek to remove barriers to innovation that have stymied such efforts," said CERF President Harvey Bernstein.
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