Civil Engineers Release 'Study Guide' to Improving America's Infrastructure

America's infrastructure picture leaves much for improvement. In urban areas, roadway congestion tops 40 percent. The number of high hazard dams -- dams that, should they fail, pose a significant risk to human life -- has increased by more than 3,000 just since 2007. Thirty percent of America's children attend school in overcrowded classrooms. However, a report released on March 24 by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) shows that with ingenuity and the right amount of commitment on the part of the nation's leaders and the American people, the infrastructure crisis we face is a solvable problem.

On Jan. 28, ASCE released the most recent grades from its Report Card for America's Infrastructure, assigning the nation's roads, bridges, water systems and other critical foundations a cumulative grade of D and noting a five-year investment need of $2.2 trillion. A March 24 comprehensive Report Card examines the basis for those failing grades, while at the same time offering an array of solutions -- national, local and personal -- for how the nation can repair and revitalize the infrastructure systems it depends on. The report is accompanied by an in-depth Web site (www.asce.org/reportcard) that offers state-level infrastructure data on a variety of subjects, including needed drinking water investment, number of deficient bridges and number of high hazard dams that lack an emergency action plan, as well as suggested ways for individuals to take action.

"The problems our nation's infrastructure faces are significant, and their impact on our personal and economic health is incredibly serious. However, this crisis is solvable," said ASCE president D. Wayne Klotz, P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE. "Increasing our investment in infrastructure is important, but the solution will involve more than just money. It will take sound technology, wise community planning and involved citizens willing to partner with the government and private sector to make real change. I believe the American people are up to that challenge."

While the comprehensive Report Card provides a great deal of information on the impact of failing infrastructure, it also focuses on ways the nation can begin addressing these critical deficiencies.

Each category of infrastructure, from aviation and bridges to transit and wastewater, includes not only a list of sector specific solutions, but also a series of case studies on how individual communities are already addressing the needs of their residents. For example, in the Roads category solutions include: reforming the federal highway program to emphasize performance management, cost-benefit analysis and accountability, as well as addressing the long-term viability of fuel taxes for transportation funding, and exploring the viability of the most promising options to strengthen this funding. In the Levees category, solutions include: phasing in the mandatory purchase of flood insurance with risk-based premiums for structures in areas protected by levees, and requiring the development and exercise of emergency action plans for levee-protected areas.

"Whether it's sitting in traffic every morning or suffering through a summertime blackout, no matter where you live in this country, failing infrastructure has an impact on your daily life," said Andrew Herrmann, P.E., F.ASCE, Report Card for America's Infrastructure Advisory Council chair. "However, it is equally obvious that when national leaders, community leaders and individuals commit to being a part of the solution, addressing the nation's infrastructure problems becomes far less daunting of a task."

Finally, the report also presents detailed breakdown of the investment needs across all 15 categories assessed, including current spending estimates, five-year needed investments, funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the remaining shortfall. For example, in the Drinking Water category, the five-year investment need equals $255 billion, the estimated actual spending (over five years) equals $140 billion and the ARRA funding equals $6.4 billion, leaving a five-year investment shortfall of $108.6 billion.

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