Understanding the Work Ahead of Us
The need for renewal of the American infrastructure is widely acknowledged but means different things to different stakeholders. While deteriorating infrastructure can be seen all around us, it is difficult to view the full spectrum of the reconstruction task on a national level, and to prioritize where limited resources should first be focused and which projects should be placed further back in the queue. The prioritization process becomes especially difficult given the specialized expertise needed to properly assess the severity and imminence of risks of deferring renewal activities.
In this section, AIRRC provides assessments by key stakeholders of the current American infrastructure renewal need. These assessments have been produced from various perspectives, and a critical examination of the American infrastructure need from these multiple vantage points can help to produce a real-world, three-dimensional view of where our priorities should lie.
One of the best known and generally respected assessments of the current condition of America’s core infrastructure is produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Most recently, the ASCE published its Infrastructure Report Card in 2017, awarding an overall grade for America’s infrastructure of D+, with separate grades assigned to 16 specific infrastructure sectors. State affiliates of ASCE also have produced individualized infrastructure report cards for most states. The ASCE national and affiliates state report cards, while not produced annually, are generally updated every few years to assess improvements to or deterioration of infrastructure in more recent years and to provide assessments of current needs.
Below we provide links to the ASCE 2017 national Infrastructure Report Card, to the individual reports of the 16 sectors viewed on a nationwide scale, and to ASCE’s national map providing access to the individual state report cards. The 16 national sectors covered by the ASCE report card consist of aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, parks and recreation, ports, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit and wastewater. Individual state report cards generally reflect some but not necessarily all of these sectors, and in some state reports other sectors area analyzed.
While the ASCE national assessment and the ASCE-affiliate’s state assessments cover an extremely broad array of infrastructure sectors, certain aspects of the American infrastructure as understood by AIRRC are not included in the report cards. For an assessment of the housing sector, we turn to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University for its 2018 report, The State of the Nation’s Housing, which provides an overview of housing market conditions in the U.S. and addresses the sufficiency of decent and affordable homes for all. For an assessment of the Healthcare sector, the National Institute of Building Sciences Academy for Healthcare Infrastructure published a report, Defining The Next Generations Focus, which reviews potential pathways for building a healthcare infrastructure to address future American healthcare needs. For an assessment of the American broadband infrastructure, the Federal Communications Commission published its most recent annual report, “2018 Broadband Deployment Report,” describing the deployment of broadband access throughout the country.
Finally, to provide perspective on how our changing climate will have broad-reaching impacts on our built environment, we provide below links to key sections of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment – Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States. The USGCRP is a Congressionally-mandated interagency federal government program charged with assisting our nation in understanding, assessing, predicting, and responding to human-induced and natural processes of changes in the global environment, encompassing climate change and other critical drivers of environmental change that may interact with climate change, such as land use change, the alteration of the water cycle, changes in biogeochemical cycles, and biodiversity loss.
We expect to update this page in the near future to provide additional assessments of the current state of America’s infrastructure to broaden the perspective. Check back soon.
ASCE’s National Infrastructure Report Card – Grading America’s Infrastructure – 2017 Grade: “D+” – “… depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure in the familiar form of a school report card assigning letter grades based on the physical condition and needed investments for improvement” (review the national report card)
ASCEs Sector-By-Sector Reports:
Aviation – 2017 Grade: “D” – “U.S. airports serve 2 million passengers daily …” (read the aviation report)
Bridges – 2017 Grade: “C+” – “9.1% of bridges rated structurally deficient …” (read the bridges report)
Dams – 2017 Grade: “D” – “15,498 (17%) dams identified as high-hazard potential …” (read the dams report)
Drinking Water – 2017 Grade: “D” – “6 billion gallons of treated water lost every day …” (read the drinking water report)
Energy – 2017 Grade: “D+” – “3,571 total power outages reported in one year …” (read the energy report)
Hazardous Waste – 2017 Grade: “D+” – “53% of Americans live within 3 miles of a hazardous waste site …” (read the hazardous waste report)
Inland Waterways – 2017 Grade: “D” – “49% of vessels experience delays across the inland waterways system …” (read the inland waterways report)
Levees – 2017 Grade: “D” – “Over $1.3 trillion in property value behind levees …” (read the levees report)
Parks and Recreation – 2017 Grade: “D+” – “$11.9 billion in National Park Service deferred maintenance …” (read the parks & recreation report)
Ports – 2017 Grade: “C+” – “99% of America’s overseas trade passes through ports …” (read the ports report)
Rail – 2017 Grade: “B” – “$27 billion in improvements in one year by the freight railroads …” (read the rail report)
Roads – 2017 Grade: “D” – “6.9 billion hours delayed in traffic – 42 hours per driver …” (read the roads report)
Schools – 2017 Grade: “D+” – “53% of schools need improvements to reach good condition …” (read the schools report)
Solid Waste – 2017 Grade: “C+” – “258 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in one year …” (read the solid waste report)
Transit – 2017 Grade: “D-“ – “$90 billion transit maintenance backlog …” (read the transit report)
Wastewater – 2017 Grade: “D+” – “Demand on treatment plants will grow more than 23% by 2032 …” (read the wastewater report)
State Infrastructure Report Cards – ASCE’s “Find Your State” Report Card Look-Up – “Choose a State to See Infrastructure Facts …” (look up your state’s report)
Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University
Housing – The State of the Nation’s Housing – “… a yardstick for the progress we as a nation have and have not made in fulfilling the promise of a decent, affordable home for all” (read the report)
National Institute of Building Sciences’ Academy for Healthcare Infrastructure
Healthcare – Defining The Next Generation’s Focus – “… to materially improve the processes used to create and maintain the incredibly complex built environment required to effectively support America’s healthcare mission” (read the report)
Federal Communications Commission
Broadband – 2018 Broadband Deployment Report – “… Congress tasked the Commission with ‘encourag[ing] the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans'” (read the report)
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Fourth National Climate Assessment – Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States – “… assesses the science of climate change and variability and its impacts across the United States, now and throughout this century'” (read the full report)
Selected Infrastructure-Related Portions of NCA:
Summary Findings – Infrastructure – “Without adaptation, climate change will continue to degrade infrastructure performance over the rest of the century, with the potential for cascading impacts that threaten our economy, national security, essential services, and health and well-being” (read the summary finding)
Chapter 3: Water – “Changes in the frequency and intensity of climate extremes relative to the 20th century and deteriorating water infrastructure are contributing to declining community and ecosystem resilience” (read about effects on water infrastructure)
Chapter 4: Energy Supply, Delivery, and Demand – “The Nation’s energy system is already affected by extreme weather events, and due to climate change, it is projected to be increasingly by more frequent and longer-lasting power outages affecting critical energy infrastructure and creating fuel availability and demand imbalances” (read about effects on energy infrastructure)
Chapter 11: Built Environment, Urban Systems, and Cities – “Recent extreme weather events reveal the vulnerability of the built environment (infrastructure, such as residential and commercial buildings, transportation, communications, energy, water systems, parks, streets, and landscaping) and its importance to how people live, study, recreate, and work in cities” (read about effects on urban infrastructure)
Chapter 12: Transportation – “Particularly as impacts compound, climate change threatens to increase the cost of maintaining infrastructure approaching or beyond its design life—infrastructure that is chronically underfunded” (read about effects on transportation infrastructure)
While assessing the national infrastructure need is a critical element in developing an effective program of renewal, ultimately the American infrastructure is made up of a multitude of individual pieces that range in size from localized capital assets to multi-state or nationwide networks, and everything in between. Further, within a particular infrastructure sector – no matter how well or how poorly the sector as a whole stands in an assessment – different localities may have facilities that fall at all points along the grade scale, and they may face a variety of infrastructure needs that span numerous different sectors. When faced with competing needs and with limited resources to fund renewal projects, each jurisdiction must prioritize its approach based on its assessment of the particularized needs of that jurisdiction and its citizens.
Early in 2017 near the beginning of the current US Administration, President Trump announced his intent to launch a federal infrastructure renewal initiative and sought input from Governors and the private sector on what infrastructure projects should be prioritized. The full list of submitted priority projects was never made public. However, American Public Radio, through its Marketplace radio program and APM Reports investigative journalism and documentary reporting initiative, assembled what it believes to be the list of over 500 suggested infrastructure projects through direct contact with or public records available from the states, infrastructure consultants, contractors, unions and other advisers who had submitted suggestions. Marketplace’s analysis of the project list, and the extensive database of projects across the 50 states assembled by APM Reports, can be accessed below.
American Public Media’s Marketplace
Report – More than 500 infrastructure projects are pitched to Trump, who will favor private money and speed (May 11, 2017) – “… assembled a previously undisclosed list of the more than 500 project requests covering 50 states from governors, consultants, contractors, unions and advisers …” (read the report & view the list)
Most recent substantive page revision: January 22, 2019