This story appears in the March 13 print edition of Transport Topics.
WASHINGTON — The country’s infrastructure again received a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, highlighting a lack of improvement four years after the group’s last assessment.
The overall grade for 2017 is D+ — just as it was in 2013.
Thousands of outdated bridges, roadways and tunnels are ill-equipped to manage current traffic volumes, and a crumbling transit system is resulting in massive congestion. Slowdowns along freight corridors impede economic growth, and $4.5 trillion is needed to achieve significant improvements in the transportation grid, ASCE concluded.
Further, the group’s leadership urged lawmakers to approve a 25-cent increase in the federal fuel tax, which would be indexed to inflation, to ensure the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund.
Transportation agencies around the country rely on the fund to help pay for infrastructure projects. Congress has not raised the fuel tax — 24.4 cents per gallon for diesel and 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline — since 1993. The group also called on Congress to continue to fund U.S. Department of Transportation’s infrastructure grants for states.
“Solving this crisis will take collective action and tough choices beginning with our leaders showing some political will and some courage,” ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei said during the quadrennial report card’s unveiling at the Newseum on March 9.
“We think it’s an important issue for the country and the backbone for our economy, so we’d like to see it certainly prioritized,” said Tom Smith, the group’s executive director.
The 2017 report card examined 16 categories, and not much has improved since 2013’s report. This year, bridges were graded C+, improving from a D in 2013.
“While the number of bridges that are in such poor condition as to be considered structurally deficient is decreasing, the average age of America’s bridges keeps going up and many of the nation’s bridges are approaching the end of their design life,” according to a summary of the report.
Rail, one of the trucking’s biggest challengers, garnered this year’s top grade of B, an improvement from C+ in 2013.
Ports received a C+ and roads a D. Four years prior, they were graded C+, and C, respectively.
About two out of every five miles of interstate roads in metropolitan areas are congested, according to the report. Also, 95 of the country’s largest metro areas saw increased congestion from 2013 to 2014, the most recent data the group analyzed. In 2014, motorists spent 6.9 billion hours delayed in traffic, which was 42 hours per driver. ASCE estimated the lost time and wasted fuel in 2014 resulted in a cost of $160 billion.
Meanwhile transit received the lowest grade in 2017 with a D-. In 2013, transit was graded D.
ASCE’s assessment was echoed by myriad stakeholders.
American Trucking Associations spokesman Sean McNally said the report card is “another sign of how desperately our country needs to move forward on a plan to rebuild and improve our infrastructure.”
Underinvestment in critical infrastructure systems hinders commerce, said Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“The call for greater infrastructure investment began on the campaign trail, and it continues in Washington today. It’s our hope that this report card will help turn that talk into action, prompting lawmakers to pass new legislation to provide long-term sustainable funding for America’s highway and transit programs,” Wright added.
This week, the Trump administration intends to present to Congress a fiscal 2018 budget request that would outline funding for transportation programs.
To produce an infrastructure funding package, the White House convened a meeting March 8 with heads of the Transportation and Energy departments, Elaine Chao and Rick Perry, respectively; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt; Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Inc.; Steve Roth, CEO of Vornado Realty Trust; Richard LeFrak, CEO of the LeFrak Organization, and Joshua Harris, co-founder of investment firm Apollo Global Management.
The president has told Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
“The government has wasted too much of the taxpayers’ money on inefficient and misguided projects,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “By looking at infrastructure from a business person’s perspective, as the president and these executives do, we can restore respect for the taxpayer dollar and make the best investment.”
Republicans in control of Congress have yet to offer a timeline for when they would consider an infrastructure funding package. The top transportation policymaker in the House, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said the issue is not being ignored.
“We have already begun the process for a much-needed [Federal Aviation Administration] reform bill that will maintain America’s competitiveness in aviation. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and with President Trump and Secretary Chao to build a 21st-century infrastructure for America,” Shuster said in a statement his office provided to Transport Topics.
Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure blueprint in January. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on Shuster’s transportation panel, has been urging GOP leadership to boost funding for infrastructure programs. He called ASCE’s D+ grade an embarrassment.
“Congress needs to wake up,” DeFazio said via his representative. “We need serious, bipartisan solutions that address our infrastructure’s $2 trillion funding gap today.”