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Infrastructure upgrade: US improves from D+ to C-

U.S. gets C- for infrastructure. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of C-, up from a grade of D+ four years ago, the association revealed Wednesday in its quadrennial report card.

The report card based on an evaluation of 17 infrastructure categories, including roads, bridges, ports, rail, aviation and inland waterways.

2021 report card (with comparison to four years ago):

  • Roads: D (D)
  • Bridges: C (C+)
  • Ports: B- (C+)
  • Rail: B (B)
  • Aviation: D+ (D)
  • Inland waterways: D+ (D)

While there was “incremental progress” in some areas, “U.S. infrastructure gets a D-range grade in 11 of 17 areas because the U.S. has failed to make investments just to keep up our roads, transit systems and more,” ASCE stated. The association noted that the COVID-19 pandemic adds to the challenge because states are decreasing infrastructure funding.

Transit received the lowest grade of D-minus, while rail earned the highest grade of B. Bridges, with a grade of C, was the only category that had a declining grade for 2021.

“If the United States is serious about achieving an infrastructure system fit for the future some specific steps must be taken, beginning with increased, long-term, consistent investment,” ASCE stated. “To close the $2.0 trillion 10-year investment gap, meet future needs and restore our global competitive advantage, we must increase investment from all levels of government and the private sector from 2.5% to 3.5% of U.S. gross domestic product by 2025.”

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg commented that ASCE’s report card revealed something already known: The country’s infrastructure is still in bad shape.

“But I also think the timing of the report card and the grade markings within it are telling us something else really important,” he said. “They’re telling us that we’re past the point of allowing ‘infrastructure week’ to be a Washington punchline once again. The disinvestment in infrastructure that’s been going on for a lifetime is catching up to us. And we’re also seeing global competitors getting out ahead of the United States.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D, Oregon, chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, is “marginally pleased” that the overall grade moved up a step from a D+ to a C-, “but that’s no thanks to federal government,” he said.

“We have to deal with the 47,000 bridges on the national highway system that are in need of replacement or repair, the 40% of the national highway system that’s deteriorated to the point where it has to be totally rebuilt, not just resurfaced. I think we finally have a real chance with the Biden White House to get this done. We had seven fake infrastructure weeks with Donald Trump. Joe Biden is dead serious about rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. America cannot afford to keep limping along.”

Investment must begin with the following steps, according to ASCE:

  • Congress should fully fund authorized 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 ASCE examines. 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.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.