National Press Club

U.S. infrastructure gets D+ from American Society of Civil Engineers

April 23, 2013 | By Lorna Aldrich | lorna2@verizon.net

Gregory DiLoreto, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Gregory DiLoreto, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Photo/Image: Gavin Huang

U.S. infrastructure -- transportation, energy, water and waste -- got a D+ in the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 quadrennial report, according to Gregory DiLoreto, president.

While the grade rose slightly from the D earned in the last report, "I don't think that's a card you take home to show your parents," he said at a National Press Club Newsmaker event on April 23.

Calling infrastructure "the backbone of the economy," DiLoreto said people don't notice it until it stops working. The report's release in mid-March at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge illustrated his point by coinciding with the breach of a 54 inch water main in nearby Chevy Chase, Md.

Drinking water and waste water both earned D's in the report, which is updated once every four years.

The top grade, B-, went to solid waste, reflecting recycling and improved designs for landfills, DiLoreto said. The civil engineers group reported that 34 percent of trash is recycled, more than double the 14.5 percent in 1980.

Rail improved from C- to C+, reflecting a $75 billion investment, he said. The lowest grades were D- each for inland waterways and levees.

Overall, the group estimates that $3.6 trillion of investment is needed by 2020, or $1.6 trillion more than currently funded. Making the additional investment will retain 3.5 million jobs in the economy, DiLoreto said.

Solutions to the shortfall require leadership from all levels of government, he said. His organization also advocates attention to sustainability and funded plans to maintain and enhance infrastructure.

DiLoreto noted bipartisan activity in both houses of Congress. In the Senate, the Committee on Transportation and Public Works has passed the Water Resources and Development Act out of committee. On the House side, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun listening sessions.

However, the proposed administration budget reduces funding for waste water and sewer water, he said.

The highway trust fund is exempt from sequestration, and the local nature of many infrastructure projects will shield them from its effects, he said, though the automatic cuts in planned federal spending will have an impact on air traffic.

The civil engineers group has developed an application for mobile devices, 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, that provides information by state. For example, the app shows 47 percent of Virginia's roads are poor or mediocre and cost the average motorist an additional $254 a year in operating and maintenance costs. The comparable estimates for Maryland are 55 percent and $422.