ASCE Releases 2021 National Infrastructure Report Card

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its National Infrastructure Report Card on May 3, 2021 and gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of “C-“.  This overall grade is up slightly from the 2017 Report Card where ASCE gave the nation’s infrastructure a “D+” grade.  The 2021 Report Card indicated that this  “is good news and an indication that we’re headed in the right direction, but a lot of work remains”.

In the 2021 Report Card, ASCE evaluated 17 specific infrastructure sectors, and gave the following grades:

Bridges C
Dams D
Drinking Water C-
Energy C-
Hazardous Waste D+
Inland Waterways D+
Levees D
Ports B-
Public Parks D+
Rail B
Roads D
Schools D+
Solid Waste C+
Stormwater D
Transit D-
Wastewater D+

There has been improvement since 2017 in five infrastructure sectors, but the grades were still not generally good  – aviation (“D+”), drinking water (“C-)”, energy (“C-“), inland waterways (D+”) and ports(“B-“); with one infrastructure sector – bridges (“C”) – declining.  The best grades were given in the rail and the ports sectors with a “B” and “B-” grade, respectively.  Many of the other sectors continued with a “C” or “D” grade.

Although there has been a slight improvement in the overall infrastructure grades, ASCE indicated that the 10-year infrastructure investment gap increased from $2.1 trillion in 2017 to $2.6 trillion in 2021.

The 2021 Report Card addresses each sector more specifically, but on an overall basis, the 2021 Report Card contained the following recommendation and actions:

  1. Leadership and Action.  Leaders from all levels of government, business, labor, and nonprofit organizations should act to:
      • Incentivize asset management and encourage the creation and utilization of infrastructure data sets across classes.
      • Streamline the project permitting process across infrastructure sectors, while ensuring appropriate safeguards and protections are in place.
      • Ensure all investments are spent wisely, prioritizing projects with critical benefits to the economy, public safety, environment, and quality of life (e.g., sustainability).
      • Leverage proven and emerging tech to make use of limited available resources.
      • Consider life cycle costs when making project decisions. Life cycle cost analysis determines the cost of building, operating, and maintaining the infrastructure for its entire life span.
      • Support research and development of innovative materials, technologies, and processes to modernize and extend the life of infrastructure, expedite repairs or replacements, and promote cost savings. Innovation should include a component of integration and utilization of big data, as well as the “internet of things.”
      • Promote sustainability, or the “triple bottom line” in infrastructure decisions, by considering the long-term economic, social, and environmental benefits of a project.
  1. Investment.  Take specific steps to increase investment from all levels of government and the private sector from 2.5% to 3.5% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2025, beginning with the following:
      • Congress should fully fund authorized infrastructure programs.
      • Infrastructure owners and operators must charge, and Americans must be willing to pay, rates reflecting the true cost of using, maintaining, and improving infrastructure.
      • The surface transportation investment gap is the largest deficit in the categories of infrastructure that ASCE evaluates. Continuing to defer maintenance and modernization is impacting our ability to compete in a global marketplace and maintain a high quality of living domestically. Congress must fix the Highway Trust Fund.
      • All parties should strive to close the rural/urban and underserved community resource divide by ensuring adequate investment in these areas through programmatic set-asides.
      • All parties should make use of public-private partnerships, where appropriate
  1. Resilience.  Utilize new approaches, materials, and technologies to ensure that infrastructure can withstand or quickly recover from natural or man-made hazards, including by making advancements in resilience across all infrastructure sectors by:
      • Enabling communities to develop and institute their own resilience pathway for all their infrastructure portfolios by streamlining asset management, implementing life cycle cost analysis into routine planning processes, and integrating climate change projections into long-term goal-setting and capital improvement plans.
      • Incentivizing and enforcing the use of codes and standards, which can mitigate risks of major climate or manmade events such as hurricanes, fires, sea level rise, and more.
      • Understanding that infrastructure is a system of systems and encourage a dynamic, “big picture” perspective that weighs tradeoffs across infrastructure sectors while keeping resilience as the chief goal.
      • Prioritizing projects that improve the safety and security of systems and communities, to ensure continued reliability and enhanced resilience.
      • Improving land use planning across all levels of decision-making to strike a balance between the built and natural environments while meeting community needs, now and into the future.
      • Enhancing the resilience of various infrastructure sectors by including or enhancing natural or “green” infrastructure.

The 2021 Report Card also contained a specific chapter entitled “Spotlight on Broadband” reflecting the increasing need to for high speed internet access across the nation.  Because of a lack of available data, ASCE did not give this sector a grade however it provided specific recommendations as to ways to enhance broadband and internet access.

As we wait for the details of the Biden Build Back Better Infrastructure Plan, the 2021 Report Card provides a thoughtful backdrop on the scope of the nation’s infrastructure challenges.  A full copy of the 2021 National Infrastructure Report Card, which includes more details on the methodology used in the determining the infrastructure grades and the recommendations  can be found at https://infrastructurereportcard.org.

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