CSG Transportation Policy Academy Part 6: American Society of Civil Engineers’ Greg DiLoreto

The final morning of CSG’s Transportation Policy Academy in Portland, Oregon featured a transportation policy roundtable, which included a presentation on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Greg DiLoreto is the 2013 President of ASCE and since 1999 has served as General Manager and CEO for the second largest water utility in Oregon, the Tualatin Valley Water District, which serves over 200,000 in the west Portland metro area. He told policy academy attendees the infrastructure grades in the new report card aren’t acceptable and America is paying a heavy price.

“(The Report Card) is a research report, it’s an advocacy tool and it’s a comprehensive assessment of our nation’s infrastructure conditions and investment needed around 16 sectors of infrastructure,” said DiLoreto. “It’s released once every four years and it tells us how we’re doing as a nation in maintaining and improving our infrastructure.”

The infrastructure as a whole received a grade of D+ in the report card, which was actually up slightly from the D it received in 2009.

“But we continue to see categories of infrastructure that are simply not seeing the maintenance or investment to improve day to day performance and save money in the long term and the backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects keeps growing,” he said.

DiLoreto said there were a handful of bright spots in some infrastructure sectors.

“There were noticeable and tangible improvements in six of the categories: roads, bridges, rail, drinking water, wastewater and solid waste,” he said. “What we’ve seen is communities across the country are starting to collaborate together to address some of their most critical infrastructure needs. I mean we’ve come to the conclusion particularly in the Portland area that we can’t do these things on our own, that we have to do them together in various communities.”

“We see bridges have moved up to a C+ as the number of structurally deficient bridges is on the decline. Many of them were repaired or improved thanks to a coordinated effort by cities. … The grade for roads improved slightly as pavement conditions improved as we got a one-time boost in funding as a result of the (2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment) Act. Now we are concerned at ASCE because that was a one-time boost. What’s going to happen in the next year? And rail jumped from a C- to a C+ as the private sector made significant investments. They invested over the last four years nearly $80 billion in rail in this country. They saw the value in doing it.”

DiLoreto said there was one important reason why some categories improved while others fell behind.

“Very simply: in the sectors where investment was made by both the public and private sectors, the grades rose.”

In two of the key transportation infrastructure categories the challenges remain considerable.

“Forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested and it costs our economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually,” DiLoreto said. “We’re spending the money and we’re getting nothing for it. We spent $101 billion and all we have to show for it is that we get to listen to our fine stereo in our car as we’re sitting in traffic. … In transit, (the grade) remains unchanged in 2013. It still has a grade of D. Americans who have access to transit have increased their ridership by 9.1 percent in the last decade. And although transit investments have also increased, we have old, deficient transit systems. We have bus fleets that are becoming outmoded and as a result of the recession, many transit districts are trying to maintain obsolete fleets. They’re having trouble raising fares at the fare box therefore forcing service cuts. TriMet, the agency that runs transit here in the Portland metropolitan area, faces that exact same problem.”

Across the 16 infrastructure sectors, the nation faces a total investment need of $3.6 trillion between now and 2020, DiLoreto said.

“We are prepared to invest in America about two-thirds of that (as a nation),” he said. “We can identify revenue that will support about $2 trillion. So we’re short about $200 billion a year to get (the infrastructure) to good condition nationwide.”

DiLoreto said a national commitment is needed to bring the existing infrastructure into a state of good repair.

“We need to do what our grandparents and our great grandparents did when they built our infrastructure at the turn of the 20th century,” he said. “That means leaders at all levels of government—the federal, the state, the local. It also means that us citizens, we have to step up and start talking about how important this quality of life is we enjoy. We have to be able to communicate with those of you who are state legislators how important it is to have road systems that aren’t congested, to have drinking water systems that are reliable. We have a responsibility to do that. We need to start talking about it around the dinner table. … A D+ grade is one we can’t accept in this country. We have to commit to make our vision a future reality. American infrastructure is the source of our prosperity. And at ASCE we don’t talk about spending—because that’s not what this is. This is an investment. If you invest $1.6 trillion additionally and you can save $3.1 trillion in your GDP, that’s a pretty good investment.”

The road to a better infrastructure will be long and hard but DiLoreto sees some signs of hope.

“It takes … a group of dedicated officials to just keep hammering home and I think we’ve had some success,” he said. “If you look at states this year that did gas tax increases—not a very popular thing to do—and yet a number of them went through that process of increasing state funding. … This thing never gets fixed overnight. It also didn’t fall into a state of disrepair overnight. It’s going to take us years to get this fixed. We’ve got to start making small incremental steps there. And it takes a champion just as anything gets done. … You have to talk to your colleagues in the state legislature.”

Additional Resources

American Society of Civil Engineers, “2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” (website and downloadable apps)

"ASCE’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure" (Greg DiLoreto’s PowerPoint presentation to policy academy)