And it's even more discouraging than the previous one. While we maintained our D+ score from 2013's report card (the American Society of Civil Engineers reviews the country's infrastructure and releases a new report card every four years), the costs to improve our dilapidated systems have risen from an estimated $3.6 trillion to $4.59 trillion in that time span. So clearly not a whole lot of improvements have been made in the interim. I suppose we could give ourselves a sad pat on the back for not falling to an F grade just yet, but are our expectations really that low now?
You can read the full report card here - it's quite fascinating and very detailed. It also helps put into perspective the full spectrum of all of our national infrastructure needs (namely that it's not just roads, rails, and deficient bridges) and how the disrepair of every one of these systems clearly impacts every single one of us. It's definitely not just a transportation industry issue.
There is a LOT of information to explore in this report, but I wanted to pull out some specific highlights.
- The only category that improved to an above average grade in 2017 was Rails with a solid B. Way to go railroads!
- Still looking at the report card history here, but I found it pretty disconcerting that our school systems were given an F in 1998. That is very sad. Small "yay" for improving that to a D+ I guess, however a shift from an F to a D+ over a 20 year time span does not inspire confidence.
- The Energy overview is pretty terrifying..."Much of the U.S. energy system predates the turn of the 21st century." and "the more than 640,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the lower 48 states’ power grids are at full capacity." Yikes.
- This graph showing the rising costs of congestion is staggering as well. As of 2014, $160 billion has been lost to congestion along with a delay of 6.9 billion hours and 3.1 billion gallons of fuel wasted.
- A positive bit of news in the "Gamechangers" arena comes via BNSF. They have been using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to safely and inexpensively inspect parts of their 32,500 miles of rail, rather than relying on people to do so.
So we know that American infrastructure is in bad shape and has been for quite some time, so how do we go about fixing this monumental issue? I've written previously about some ideas that have been floated around, but the ASCE has provided their insight as well. Their solutions entail fixing the Highway Trust Fund by raising the federal motor fuel tax, creating dedicated public funding sources, and advising that Americans simply need to be held accountable for helping to pay for these critically essential systems and services. I have to say that those sound like pretty solid solutions.
Maybe by 2021 we can move that grade up to a passing one?