If America’s Infrastructure Were a Student, It Would Be Failing Out

For the second time in a row, America’s infrastructure received a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the performance and condition of the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+, up from a D in 2009. That kind of “progress” wouldn’t impress a parent, and it should be downright disappointing to the American people.

A few shocking highlights:

  • The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. The number of deficient dams is estimated at more than 4,000, which includes 2,000 deficient high-hazard dams.
  • Much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
  • Forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually.
  • Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years.

The ASCE study, updated every four years, evaluated 16 sectors that include solid waste, the power grid, drinking water, wastewater, roads and bridges. An Advisory Council of ASCE members assigns grades in each category according to the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.

The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+.

No categories saw a decline in grade this year, so the weakened infrastructure we have left is hanging in there…for now. Still, ASCE President Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E. calls the results “simply unacceptable.”

“Infrastructure can either be the engine for long-term economic growth and employment, or, it can jeopardize our nation’s standing if poor roads, deficient bridges, and failing waterways continue to hurt our economy,” said DiLoreto. If America doesn’t find a way to  inject over $3 trillion into its own infrastructure in the next 7 years, the next report may read all F’s. And there’s no extra credit in this class.

It’s time to make some hard decisions about where the money’s going. Our infrastructure is literally crumbling to the ground–infrastructure each and every one of us needs to survive. Yet a vast majority of our budget is earmarked for a bloated military and subsidies for fossil fuel companies already swimming in profit.

Budgeting is all about priorities. Whether it’s a family or a nation, there’s only so much money to go around. The responsibility of those in charge is to decide which expenditures are absolutely necessary and which aren’t. In America, it appears, our priorities are more than a little messed up.

Read the ASCE’s full report, including state-by-state breakdowns, at www.infrastructurereportcard.org


Related Reading:

America’s Crumbling Infrastructure: The Invisible Election Issue

Who Needs Infrastructure Repair When You Can Afford A Nice Car?

Climate Change Puts The World’s Infrastructure In Danger


Image via Thinkstock


Julie F.
Julie F6 years ago

I agree with Tony B.

Tony B.
Tony B6 years ago

Growing economies invest in infrastructure. Failure to address this will lead to the decline of the entire society. That point appearing closer and closer as conservatives in Congress are more concerned with personal wealth than the common good and the liberals are are more concerned with providing safety nets for everything than requiring people to assume personal responsibility.

These two political extremes have stagnated progress and weakened the US foundation culturally, morally, economically as well as structurally.

Tiffany B.
Tiffany B6 years ago

This is embarrassing and sad

paul m.
paul m6 years ago

Thanks for ...

janice b.
jan b6 years ago

I saw a segment on TV on this very subject and one of the Bridges an engineer won't use is the Tappan Zee Bridge NJ=NY which is busy-busy-busy. We even saw the areas of concern on video.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

Windham township is lucky enough to have some friendly rivalry between the Water department, the Sewer department, and the Willimantic Housing Authority (manages some town owned low-income housing) about green bragging rights--see who can save the most money on energy by some combination of efficiency and renewable energy. We have prize-winning water, our waste water treatment is improved, and public housing is saving on the cost of energy. Our public buildings are saving on energy with both efficiency measures and solar panels.

Marcel Elschot
Marcel E6 years ago

Thanks for the article

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Of this I have no doubt. The country's priorities are out of order and the infrastructure is suffering.

Brian F.
Brian F6 years ago

All the money that was wasted on the Iraq war 2 trillion dollars could have been spent rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, and infrastructure. We could have built wind farms, solar power plants, geothermal power plants, and electric cars and solar chargers. We could have clean renewable energy now. But instead, America voted for that moron George Bush, who destroyed the country by sending us to war based on lies, spending 2 billion a week for 8 years on the illegal Iraq war, cutting taxes for the rich, and taking a surplus and turning it into a 10,7 trillion dollar debt in 8 years of his horrible rule. George Bush is the worst president in the history of the USA, a complete disgrace to this nation, who along with Chaney profitted and becam rich off defense contracts from the Iraq war, while our nation sank into debt, and 100,000 Iraqi and 4500 Americans lost their lives.

David King
David King6 years ago

"Friday night, the Senate pulled an all-nighter and passed its first budget in four years. We voted on more than 50 different amendments -- including paycheck fairness for women and assistance for the New England fishing industry. It was an action-packed night.

One other thing happened too. By a unanimous 99-0 vote, the Senate passed a measure from Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Senator David Vitter to eliminate the billions of dollars in subsidies that giant "too big to fail" banks receive through lower borrowing costs because of the implicit guarantee they will be bailed out by the government in a time of crisis.

The measure was non-binding, but it was an important step forward -- and it's exactly what I wrote to you about just a couple weeks ago.

I'm glad that Republicans and Democrats can agree: "too big to fail" needs to end and these big-bank subsidies make no sense.

There's still a lot more work to do to make sure that there is a level playing field between big banks and their smaller competitors and consumers, but we're making progress.

Thank you for being a part of this,

Elizabeth Warren"